Written by: Sufiz Mohd Suffian
With the increasing awareness of gamification globally, many organisations have begun injecting gamification into just about everything. From gamifying employee Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), onboarding new recruits, and even purchasing new property. Whether it is by incorporating game elements to elicit competition, slapping on a leaderboard to rank "players", or curating an engaging experience, these all stem from game thinking and gamification. As most of us know, gamification does not necessarily mean creating a game. Rather, it is incorporating engaging elements in games into a non-game context. With the right application, organisations have yielded positive results in user engagement, revenue generation, and customer satisfaction. With such great results, it's no wonder organisations are rushing to squeeze gamification into just about anything.
But apart from the workplace, one wonders if there is a place for gamification in the household. Specifically, in parenting.
Parenting is akin to an amateur sport with consistent trial and error. Since I’ve become father to a beautiful baby girl, my wife and I have done considerable research utilizing various books on parenting - from understanding the way the brains of babies are wired to how parents have raised successful children in different parts of the globe. In our research, I couldn't help but notice some similarities between parenting and gamification. Obviously, I am not suggesting parents award points to their babies for taking regular naps, or rank children on a leaderboard. Much rather, I focused on the way parents have successfully engaged with their children to nurture and raise them to become confident and capable members of society.
So how does gamification relate to parenting then?
Creating the Right Environment
This may seem obvious, but what does creating the "right" environment really mean? In gamification, this usually involves creating a safe and engaging environment for "players" to play in. This is especially apparent in game-based learning or serious games where game elements are designed to trigger desired behaviours and reward players for continuously displaying them, which in turn reinforces and builds positive habits. Players can safely make mistakes and fail without any negative repercussions to their personal or professional lives.
Having a similarly safe and engaging environment is crucial for a child's development. The human brain is wired to focus on one thing, survival. If our brains think it is in any kind of danger, it will stop its focus on anything else, including learning. Once the brain senses that the danger has passed only then can learning resume. This means that using fear as a motivator to learn is not ideal. This includes rigid and strict parenting practices that force children to perform. Research has found that this has negative effects on a child's development and results in the child merely becoming a parrot, acting in a manner that pleases their parents but in reality does not actually improve their intelligence, which is known as learned helplessness. Instead, creating an environment filled with positive motivators is best for a child's development.
Playing to Learn
We all can agree that the one thing that children love to do is play. Gamification in essence is about injecting play into pretty much anything to make the experience fun. Although it isn't exactly like a game of tag or hop scotch, gamification is able to turn something that is mundane or serious into a fun and playful experience. Whether it is through the rush of collecting likes on your latest photo on Instagram, or securing enough sales to land you the top spot on your sale department's leaderboard, play is what ultimately drives engagement in players.
For children, play is often seen as a relief from serious learning, when in actuality for children play IS serious learning. Parenting experts (and expert parents) often emphasize on the importance of creative play for children. Free play teaches children to be less anxious and how to cope with stress. In fact, the more they play, the better they become at learning social skills and engaging in social or play contexts. Through pretend play, children are able to understand emotional challenges experienced in different roles and develop empathy.
Gamification has a way of changing the perceptions of players towards different situations, environments, or people by using the right game elements. The playful nature of games allows us reframe our mindsets by creating a safe and fun environment to let our guards down and welcome different possibilities into our minds. Reframing works particularly well with children.
Reframing with children is mainly about helping them shift their focus from what they cannot do to what they can do. Parents help children see situations from different perspectives, allowing them to focus on the less negative conclusions or outcomes. To do this, parents need to create a safe and positive environment for children that is free from negative labels (e.g. "He is so lazy") or limiting language (e.g. "I'm not good at that"). Negative labels and limiting language are very defining - the more children hear them, the more negative conclusions about themselves they make. Guiding children to a new, wider and more ambiguous picture about themselves and the world around them helps them to reframe positively.
Setting Rules of the Game
Games usually come with a set of rules for players to follow. To get the full experience or the desired results, players would follow these rules throughout the game. Parenting also comes with their own set of rules (and discipline), especially when it comes to raising a moral child. Children generally have an innate sense of right and wrong. However, moral behaviour is something that builds over time and requires a particular kind of guidance. Research has shown that families who raise moral children tend to follow very predictable patterns when it comes to rules and discipline. To sum it up, the recipe to moral children lie in three crucial ingredients: clear, consistent rules and rewards; swift punishment; and rules that are explained.
Parents need to set clear rules in the household and explain the rationale behind them along with their consequences to the children. If rules are broken, parents should impose punishment (that is emotionally safe and not a form of abuse) quickly, firmly, and consistently, which is then followed by explaining to the children why what they did was wrong. However, if children do follow the rules and display desired behaviours or even refrain from displaying bad behaviour, they should be rewarded or given praise as a form of acknowledgement. This helps children clearly differentiate between what is right and wrong, and ultimately builds their moral compass over time.
Parenting can be a daunting task especially to new parents. However, even games and gamification can provide useful guidance to the rookie parent in the sport of child development.