Some of my fondest gaming memories come from playing with my little brother. He’s 8 years younger than me, and I’d often let him shoot or fight while I moved the character around on the screen. What I don’t really remember is how old we were when we played together, and I’d like to know, because I’ve been wondering:

When will I be able to play games like this with my 2 1/2 year old? Could we start now?

Currently the only game I ever play “with” him is Pokemon Go. I’m not counting pushing him around in the stroller while I visit PokeStops. He likes to watch me do maintenance tasks like transfer and heal my Pokemon. (We refer to them as Pokemans at home, but I’ll spare you all.) He likes to click on the Pokemon so they do their little action and spin them around on the screen. It’s not much, but he becomes quite whiny when it’s time to be done, so I’m not inclined to do it with him very often regardless of how much he asks to see “Poke-Hands.”

This tiny Snorlax photo was taken by Josh Hallett on Flickr. Isn’t it cute?

Should you let your toddler watch you play video games? Would this allow you to get a bit more gaming time in and bond with your kid at the same time, or would it just be frustrating for both of you? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if this might be worthwhile.

Can your toddler handle watching without participating?

The latest episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Massively OP, not only MENTIONS THIS BLOG (!!!) but includes one of the hosts (Justin) discussing playing games while his kids watch. My child is not ready to handle this yet. I mostly play on the PC, and he can’t deal with being around someone on a computer without wanting to use the keyboard and mouse himself. This is completely understandable. He’s a toddler, and to him a keyboard is just a slab covered with buttons. How could he possibly resist?

You might get away with giving your toddler a spare keyboard or controller so they think they’re playing, even if their button smashing doesn’t actually do anything. You’d have to be sure they wouldn’t realize what was going on, or just want to use your controller for no other reason than it’s the one you’re using.

Is the content appropriate for your toddler?

I leave it up to individual parents to decide what content is appropriate for their children. If you really want to play something super violent and you don’t want your kid exposed to that kind of content, you might want to wait to play that particular game after they go to bed. Check your Steam list and determine if there’s anything you want to play that you feel comfortable playing in front of your kid.

Are you concerned about screen time?

Disclaimer: I’m not a pediatrician, psychologist, child development specialist, or parenting “expert” so if you’re concerned about screen time, I highly encourage you to do your own research. That said, I think if you’re actively engaged interacting with your child while you’re playing, it seems like more quality time than sticking them alone to zone out in front of a TV show.

In my personal experience, my toddler becomes a mini tyrant once the TV or phone is turned off. This discourages us from wanting to give him any to avoid the affront to our ears when it’s time to stop.

Do you just not want to?

In the podcast episode, Justin talks about how his kids issue instructions at him when he plays The Sims. Maybe you don’t want this. Maybe you want to make your own decisions and not have a high pitched voice telling you what to do for once. Maybe you just want to play your game by yourself.


The Verdict

I’m passing on playing video games with my son for now. I think it will be something fun we can do together when he’s a little older, when he’s not ripping the keyboard out of my hands and throwing a tantrum when it’s time to put it away.

For those of you with toddlers, do they ever watch you play video games? How does it go? For those with older kids, how old were they when you started gaming together?

10 thoughts on “Should You Play Video Games with your Toddler?

  1. You might not be able to play video games with him but you can play games with him on a tablet. My son is four and can finally play on the xbox with my husband but when he smaller we used to play games on a tablet. And to ease my guilt we’d play educational games 😉


    1. That’s a good idea! We’re limiting screen time a lot right now because he gets so upset when it’s time to stop, but I’ll keep that in mind when we try again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My son used to also get upset about us taking it away so I started giving him his ‘time’ upfront. ‘You can play on the tablet until it’s time to eat’ and if he throws a tantrum then he doesn’t get it at all. But that was only when he was about three, he didn’t understand before that


  3. My nephew is a toddler and we’re currently easing on screen time. We’re focused on more hands-on games for now. But in the future, we’re thinking maybe it’s possible. We live in the age of modern gaming and I think it’s futile to totally restrict him. I guess balance is key. 🙂 Thanks for this article. It’s definitely something to think about.


    1. Balance, definitely! My fiancé talks about how he doesn’t want to limit him so much that when he leaves the house he’s suddenly unrestricted and doesn’t know how to create limits for himself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. Restriction without explanation could make things worse. Much better to make a child experience it (with guidance from parents) and let him decide for himself if he likes it or not. We can always set reasonable ground rules. (sigh). Actually it’s so easy on paper but in reality it’s not. Good luck to us! 😊


  4. Great post. I just got your blog recommended in my WordPress reader and it brought me here 🙂 I’m really hesitant to open up the whole gaming on computer-world to our son who is 5 years old. I’m not sure yet. Especially MMOs I think should be something that is not introduced until way later. But he has some games on our tablet that is appropriate for his age, and it’s sometimes something we do together though 🙂

    But the watching without participating – we are not quite there yet. It’s mostly I who do the watching 😉


    1. MMOs (any any multiplayer game) comes with the added concern about other people. You might decide the content of a game is fine for your kid, but you can’t control or predict the behavior of other players.

      Liked by 1 person

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