Parent Engagement in Esports: Pause, Play, Connect

How a framework for attachment play can be leveraged to boost parent-child relationships in gaming

This article was written in collaboration with Debi John.

The adoption of esports in schools around the world is on the rise as the esports and gaming industries are experiencing tremendous growth. While gaming has become a larger industry than movies, music, and traditional sports combined, many parents fail to understand the transformative power that games, esports, and play can have on their children. 

Modern research states that playing video games can actually increase intelligence (link) as well as many other benefits. “Esports provides many positive aspects of extracurricular activities like teamwork, leadership, and dedication while also teaching transferable business and social-emotional skills,” says Shae Williams, co-founder of Parents in Esports (CoPE) and the parent of a professional gamer.

Becky Keene, a leader and educator from insight2execution, shares that, “Anytime a child is interested in an activity in which the parent has no background, it’s difficult to know how to best support the child’s new interest.” Keene continues, “But like any activity, parents can take the opportunity to deepen the parent-child relationship.”

So how can parents take that opportunity? Three simple words: Pause, Play, Connect*.

  1. PAUSE. Pause to educate yourself, attune to your child’s emotions, and plan social interactions. 

Pause to watch an esports championship or livestream together, just as you would watch any other traditional sport WITH your child. This creates opportunities to connect both physically and emotionally. And while the Lego Foundation states that 84% of children want to spend more time with their parents playing, this can be difficult as they get older. If the parent continues to foster connection through play, their young person may feel safe enough to approach them in times of crisis.

Christopher Turner, an educator and leader in the esports field, reminds us that, “We grew up in a different era than our kids. Esports and gaming is a part of the world our kids are growing up in now and it can lead our students down many different positive paths toward a productive future.”

Building bridges through the shared experience described above creates a connection that allows the child to feel ‘seen’ and understood. Parents can take this opportunity to attune to their child’s emotional state and build emotional literacy by being curious and seeking to understand how their child is feeling in that moment. If your child is also competing in esports, this opens the door for discussing how the emotions differ (or are similar) when watching compared to when playing.

  1. PLAY. Play together and with intention. 

Learning through play doesn’t have to stop at a particular age. In fact, Andrew Huberman states that “Play is a means to enhance neuroplasticity and explore novel situations, regardless of age.” There is such a wide variety of esports games that you may well find a game that you enjoy playing and end up giving your brain a healthy workout in the process. 

Keene shares, “Play with them a few times so you know a little bit about strategy, learn the game terminology, and can follow gameplay. You’re a better fan when you know what’s going on!”

Pausing to play together also cultivates deeper levels of connection and security between parent and child, opening up more opportunities for that young person to feel safe enough to share about other aspects of their life. 

Often parents have found that the young person relishes the opportunity to show off their skills and teach the parent. This ‘power reversal play’ can be particularly effective when that young person may be feeling out of control or powerless in other areas of their life eg. school issues, family breakdown, etc.

  1. CONNECT. Utilize this experience and social play to deepen connection with your child.

Beyond the increased connection with your child that you can feel through meaningful engagement in something they are passionate about, you can also create conditions for social connection. If they don’t have a structured environment to play at school, help create social environments to connect and play with other teammates outside of school and work out where they can fit esports training into their weekly schedule. 

Keene describes team socials as “bonding experiences that allow kids to interact outside of practices and matches, that allow you to meet teammates and learn more about the team culture through observing them together.” As our young people have been affected by the last two years of disruption from Covid, opportunities to socialize and meet offline are more important than ever.

Finally, you can use esports as a connection point to skills being learned in school through classes and more traditional extra-curricular activities. Williams adds, “Esports provides all the positive aspects of extracurricular activities like teamwork, leadership, and dedication while also teaching transferable business skills. And remember,  like any activity, moderation and guidance is key.”

Perhaps pausing, playing, and connecting can: reinforce the importance of parent engagement within our esports programs, create the potential to improve performance, and increase the overall wellbeing of our young people as we build a brighter, more play-filled future. 

*After discovering that over 80% of parents struggle to see the value of playing with their child, Debi John, founder of Play Healing, created this simple, three step, framework (Pause, Play, Connect®) to help parents and educators foster healthy, playful, environments by building connection through play. 
To find out more about Pause, Play, Connect® visit