Chess and Bonding

I was once offered a piece of advice regarding parenting, “you’re damned if you do and damned of you don’t.” During the early years of your child’s life, he or she looks up to you as parent and hero and all things in between. Then come the teenage years and with them rebellion. No matter what you do, your child will disagree with you, spitting out statements such as “you just don’t understand,” or worse yet, “I hate you.” This can be heartbreaking for a loving parent! However, this attitude tends to be a natural evolutionary stage for teenagers who are exploring the boundaries of adolescence and societal behavior. Don’t take it personally.

Activities that bond parent and child can be extremely important during these unruly years and act as a lifeline for adolescents who might otherwise venture into dangerous situations that lead to irreparable damage. Many parents bond with their children through sports, sharing a common love of a football team, or through youth sporting leagues. However, this bond is often not strong enough to survive the rigors of those terrible teenage years. Of course, I tell my students that it’s their job to rebel as a teenager, doing so creatively rather than destructively. After all, some of the world’s greatest rebels have created some of civilization’s greatest achievements. I also tell them that one day they’ll be sorry for the things they say to their parents in their youth.

Maintaining a bond with a child throughout both your lives can be difficult. So many factors come into play that can work against the parent/child relationship, eroding that relationship before it’s had a chance to fully develop. While love is the key, love can be an extremely difficult idea for the young mind to truly understand. Therefore, developing solid bonds early on, bonds that have the ability to last a lifetime, provide the greatest opportunity for not losing touch with your children.

Chess is a fantastic bonding tool for parent and child. Before delving into the psychological aspects of this idea, we should look at the socioeconomic reasons for chess being an excellent bonding tool. First off, investing in chess equipment is inexpensive. You just need a chess set and access to learning materials which can be found online or at your local library. Second, chess doesn’t have defined social boundaries (financial, religious or political). Rich or poor, Catholic or Muslim, Democrat or Republican, people who love the game of chess play for their love of the game. I’ve often seen Muslims and Catholics happily battling it out on the chessboard, putting their religious differences aside for the sake of the game. Chess has no physical requirements, so a parent with a disability who cannot play football with their child can still play chess with that child.

What sets aside chess as a good bonding tool over other parent/child endeavors is that it is an activity that both parent and child can learn at the same time with both participants being on equal footing (although children who are serious about chess tend to eclipse their parents over time). Because there are no physical aspects to the game, the age at which you learn to play isn’t an issue. Try being a fifty year old man learning how to play football with his fifteen year old son!

The idea that chess can improve a child’s logic and reasoning skills also applies to parents. Imagine an activity that is equally good for both parent and child alike! Chess is also good for one’s memory which is a plus for older parents and excellent for children lacking in focus.

Psychologically, I believe that chess allows for a tighter, long lasting bond between parent and child because it’s a game of the mind in which both players are interlocked in a dance of sorts. Plans are met by counter plans, a type of intellectual ballet. Chess is a neutral zone where parents are less apt to say something their child thinks uncool or offensive, which erodes at the bond rather than strengthening it. It’s a chance to spend time with your child in a place where it’s all about the action on the board. Both parent and child can leave their views and opinions of the world on the sidelines and enter the world of chess.

If you’re a parent who already plays chess, you can help develop your child’s chess skills without having to worry about saying something they won’t like. Your child, even unruly teenagers, will appreciate getting better because they, in turn, will be able to go out and beat their friends at chess (thanks to your help). With teenagers, you don’t want to set up a scheduled time to play on a regular basis at first. Set up a chessboard and sooner or later they’ll get curious. Only then, when your child is interested, should you suggest a regularly scheduled game. This can go a long way towards strengthening bonds.

If you and you child are both new to chess, you have an opportunity to create a very strong bond. If your child is taking his or her first chess class, ask them to show you what they learned in class that day. Let your child become the teacher. Of course, you’ll want to go over what they show you, using an age appropriate chess book, to reinforce your own knowledge, and to make sure they’re playing correctly. If your child struggles with a chess concept, work together to understand it. I offer the parents of my students, the opportunity to sit in on my classes or take a couple of free lessons to get them up to speed. That is how important the idea of bonding through chess is to me. I encourage all of my student’s family members to play chess and have had classes with a parent, uncle and grandmother of one student all learning at the same time.

Chess provides a nice break for both parent and child from the technological devices that we spend much of our day staring at. Video games are a parent’s worst nightmare because they’re often violent and send the wrong message to impressionable minds. Most parents have no interest in the video games their kids play. You don’t have that problem with chess! Chess requires no batteries! Chess helps develop patience in both parent and child and patience is a much needed skill for parents.

I’ve seen first hand, potentially troubled teens who maintained a bond with a parent through their love of chess. Those same teenagers never ended up getting into too much trouble because of that bond. Try playing some chess with your child. Consider it a long term investment, one that pays off down the road. Play chess with your child because forming a better bond may be the single event that prevents calamity later on in their lives. Better human bonds make for better humans. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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About Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).