What your child most wants — and needs — is to be with you with no goal in mind beyond the joy of spending time together. He wants you to take pleasure in him, play with him, and listen to him. Nothing bolsters his self-esteem more! Playing games is an easy and excellent way to spend unhurried, enjoyable time together. As an added bonus, board games are also rich in learning opportunities. They satisfy your child's competitive urges and the desire to master new skills and concepts, such as:
number and shape recognition, grouping, and counting
letter recognition and reading
visual perception and color recognition
eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity
A Word About Winning
Children take game playing seriously, so it's important that we help guide them through the contest. When a player falls to a lower level, our kids really feel sad; when it rises up high, they are remarkably proud and happy, even if we adults know that it happened only by chance. Therefore, you need to help balance your child's pleasure in playing the game with his very limited ability to manage frustration and deal with the idea of losing.
For 3, 4, and even 5 year olds, winning is critical to a feeling of mastery. So generally, I think it's okay to "help" them win. By about 6, kids should begin to internalize the rules of fair play, tenuous as they may seem to a child who is losing a game. So it is ok for a 6 year old to "amend" the rules to win if he feels he has to. I encourage you to acknowledge your child's need for special rules. At the start of the game, you might want to ask, "Are we playing by regular rules today?" As your child becomes more resilient and builds confidence you can begin to play the game to its original rules.