girl smiling as she sets the table up to play the game dungeons and dragons
Playful Heart Musings

Adventure Awaits: Dungeons and Dragons as a Tool for Family Bonding

Confession: Dungeons and Dragons (a.k.a. “D&D”) is a game I admittedly used to associate with people who didn’t have much of a social life. How incredibly ignorant and wrong I was about that!

When I learned that my sister’s partner was heavily into this game, I realized that it’s exactly the opposite of what I imagined. He explained to me that it was not only a way to escape the stressors of life through play but a very social activity through which he’s formed a community of friends with meaningful bonds.

This, of course, got me thinking about parenting, playing with kids, and family bonding! So, I decided to ask my brilliant songwriter friend Andrew Delaney if I could interview him. I had seen a Facebook post from him mentioning that he was teaching his stepdaughter how to play Dungeons and Dragons.

facebook post of andrew delaney describing his stepdaughter playing dungeons and dragons with him for the first time
The Facebook post that prompted this interview!

As a stepmom, I’m always intrigued by different ways stepparents bond with their stepchildren — especially through play!

In addition to being an award-winning singer-songwriter, music producer, and Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast, Andrew is a man of many interests — horror films, reptiles and amphibians, and André the Giant, to name just a few! I’ve always admired the way he freely and confidently shares his wide ranging fascinations with his friends, family, and fans.

(Side note: Andrew also enthusiastially supported me when I had the idea to start a podcast all about funny, embarrassing fart stories. That’s a true friend! And yes, I actually recorded several episodes and still dream of *releasing* them someday… pun intended.)

Whether you are a devoted D&D adventurer or completely clueless to this fantasy world, I bet you’ll be inspired by what he had to say. Here are my takeaways from our conversation:

1. Kids are naturally curious about what interests US.

When, how, and why did you introduce Dungeons and Dragons to your stepdaughter? Can you tell me a little about how all that went down?

My wife, Dotti, and I have played for years, so it has been in Evie’s (our eight-year-old) orbit for a long time.

We received a card game called 5-Minute Dungeon from a friend of Dotti’s and started playing that. And that game borrows thematically from D&D. Evie was really into it, and she knew we played D&D and she always wants to be a part of what’s going on in our house, so it was pretty natural to try D&D after that.

I bought her a set of dice for Christmas and she got super excited. When we finally made characters and sat down to play, she was kind of a natural. She asked the same sorts of questions you’d hear from adults, like “Can we check to see if there are footprints to find out where the goblins went?”

It was nice. It made Dotti and me so happy to see it.

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(Here’s the link to the game Andrew mentioned above!)

2. Personal agency is such an important concept for kids to learn — and Dungeons and Dragons is an excellent teacher!

There’s a stigma surrounding D&D, often considered “nerdy.” I kind of feel like “nerdiness” is more widely accepted these days as its own type of “cool.” But, what would you say to a child who might be worried about being considered “nerdy?”

I don’t know how strong that stigma actually is these days. “Stranger Things” did a lot to get a lot of non-nerd types interested in the game. D&D is actually more popular right now than it has ever been in its history, which goes back to the 70’s.

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The great thing about Evie is that we’ve raised her to think “weird” or “nerdy” or whatever is a good thing to be. And we believe that ourselves.

It’s always a teachable moment when a kid gets teased by others because it gives parents a chance to say, “Do you want to spend your time with people who talk to you like that, or would you rather find the people who are kind to you?”

And it reinforces for Evie the idea that she has a choice in who her friends are. I mean, we protect our kids, but we also need them to have a sense of agency.

D&D is big on personal agency as well. There’s a story to be told, but the players are steering the ship with their decisions. A good D&D game is one where players feel like their choices matter. I think that ends up being a good lesson in life.

andrew, dotti, and evie posing for a photo together, smiling
Dotti, Andrew, and Evie

We’ve raised her to think “weird” or “nerdy” or whatever is a good thing to be. And we believe that ourselves.

3. The bulk of bonding with kids happens during play.

Society kind of sends us this message that as adults, we should prioritize seriousness over playtime. What would you say to those who might be overlooking the importance of play for our own well-being, especially when it comes to bonding with our kids?

I don’t know that there are a lot of opportunities to bond with kids in a “serious” way. I guess when they feel unsafe and you make them feel safe again – that’s serious bonding.

But the bulk of all the bonding you’re going to do with your kid is going to be in play time. Honestly, if you aren’t playing with your kids, I’m not sure you’re bonding much with them at all.

There is very little seriousness in our house. Dotti and I are constantly joking around and trying to create silliness and Evie follows suit. We laugh a lot. 

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As adults, we play D&D with our friends as essentially our primary social activity. They come over and we play the game, but there’s also a ton of goofing off and in-jokes. It builds and strengthens friendships in a way that “Let’s go out to dinner and talk about our jobs” will never do. And I think that translates in much the same way when we play with Evie.

Andrew going for an "airplane" ride on female friend's legs and smiling goofily
Andrew taking life very seriously and going for an “airplane ride” with the Farrens — who were featured in this blog post: Free to Be Real: Authentic Parenting Insights from a Singer-Songwriter Dad

…Goofing off… builds and strengthens friendships in a way that “Let’s go out to dinner and talk about our jobs” will never do.

4. When adults are genuinely having fun, kids pick up on it and want to be involved.

Kids have an innate sense when it comes to recognizing genuine fun. How do you think that has come into play with D&D and/or any other activities you enjoy doing as a family? How do shared interests impact your relationship?

Shared interests more or less created my relationship with my wife. Not so much the interests we already shared when we met, but the interests of the other that we agreed to try out.

I fell in love with Dotti in part because she’s always game for whatever and can have fun doing all sorts of things. I was much more closed off when we met and I’ve tried to borrow her enthusiasm for the new and different as we’ve moved through life together.

Evie has picked up on that and she’s always game to try new stuff and excited to see what we’re doing. Kids wants to be where the action is.

We have this window of time before Evie even has any idea of what “cool” is and whatever we do as a family is currently her definition of cool and fun.

The hope is that when she becomes a teen and potentially rejects our idea of fun, she’ll still come back to it later – or in secret – like how I used to steal my stepdad’s CDs. Maybe she’ll hold onto D&D through that.

Whatever we do as a family is currently her definition of cool and fun.

The hope is that when she becomes a teen and potentially rejects our idea of fun, she’ll still come back to it later – or in secret – like how I used to steal my stepdad’s CDs. Maybe she’ll hold onto D&D through that.

girl examining a frog in her stepdad's gloved hand
Andrew’s stepdaughter Evie and frog friend. Nature walks are one of their family’s favorite shared interests and ways to bond.

5. Setting aside time for playfulness is important for children AND adult relationships!

Playing D&D provides a break from the stresses of everyday life for a lot of people. How has engaging in this imaginative world helped you relax and escape from the pressures of adulthood?

Weirdly, there’s a lot of prep that goes into it. There is stuff to set up, remember, and prepare ahead of time. If it’s our grownup game, there is house cleaning to do before people get there. There is a comfort in the routine of doing those things.

I think the imagination aspect is important, but not nearly as important as the face-to-face time. We’re playing pretend and we’re rolling dice and making jokes, but that’s all just a reason to get together and be in each other’s company.

Putting in that face-to-face time with your kids, adult friends, significant other — especially in the dedicated time and space of “We are playing a game right now” — is actively prioritizing fun and play and togetherness. That’s kind of the best of the human experience. 

Evie's Dungeons and Dragons character, Yaza the dragon born barbarian
Evie’s Dungeons and Dragons character, Yaza the Dragonborn Barbarian


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6. When given freedom and trust through play, kids will surprise us with how insightful they are.

Are there any particularly memorable moments that stand out to you while playing D&D with your stepdaughter?

There are moments when she behaves like an experienced player. When she asks insightful questions. It’s small stuff really, but it makes my wife and I so happy to see that she is not only having a good time, but she gets it.

We were concerned eight would be too young to understand what was going on, but she’s totally into it and there’s nothing of particular importance that she doesn’t understand.

7. Prioritizing play leads to a healthier social life. Friendship is the heart of Dungeons & Dragons.

Some view playing D&D as a “waste of time,” but we know it can be a source of creativity and personal growth.

How has participating in this game positively impacted your own well-being and sparked your imagination?

Dungeons and Dragons is first and foremost a social game. It’s pretty much impossible to replicate the play experience of D&D without other people. I’ve built long term friendships playing this game. Much of the time, my entire non-professional social circle is via D&D games.

What really captures my imagination with D&D is this connection with this larger cultural tradition that is Dungeons & Dragons. People have been discovering, enjoying, just figuring out this same thing for a long time now.

And even if they weren’t doing it all at the same table or in the same way, they were doing it together. There’s something to that for me.

And then after decades of that experience, I get to bring Dotti into it. I get to bring Evie into it. It’s cool for me to share that with them.

8. You don’t need to play Dungeons and Dragons proper to reap the benefits of imaginative storytelling-based play with your family

Any advice for people that are interested in trying out D&D but don’t have the large time commitment it often requires?

Are there different versions? Ones you can play in small doses at home as a family?

D&D proper is one thing. But it doesn’t take a game system or dice to have imaginative play with kids. I’m certain your kids have ideas of their own for a character of some kind they could pretend to be in a collaborative storytelling environment.

D&D is sort of “sword & sorcery” fantasy, but one need not stop there when coming up with stories to play out with the family. There’s no real limits on it.

All that said, the time put into D&D is often good time. And more importantly it’s that face-to-face time I mentioned earlier. It’s worth a shot.

9. If you DO decide to try Dungeons and Dragons with your child, trust them to ask questions and let their imagination guide the way — a great lesson for parenting in general, right?

For parents looking to introduce their children to D&D, what practical tips or advice would you give them?

Don’t over-stress the mechanics of the game, especially to younger kids, eight to 12 or so. They will usually innately understand the storytelling aspects of the game. Don’t overwhelm them with options.

Since we had played that 5-Minute Dungeon card game I mentioned, and Evie often gravitated towards the Paladin or Barbarian in those games, I just asked her which of those two she wanted to try in D&D.

The process of building a character with her was surprisingly simple. I just described each option until something clicked with her and she chose that thing. We did it all together as a family and it wasn’t a big deal.

After that, we just dove right in and started and let her ask questions as we went. The game is already set up with the Game Master or Dungeon Master person who kind of referees everything, so with me taking on that role, all she had to do was say what she wanted to do and I could then say “Well, okay, you roll this dice here and add this number here” and she isn’t burdened with knowing how to do every little thing.

She just gets to sit with her family and play and have fun, and so do I.

Couldn’t ask for better than that really.

Summing it Up

I loved this glimpse into Andrew’s sweet, fun-loving family.

I’m so grateful for his thoughtful answers to my questions about playing Dungeons and Dragons together. Not only did it open my eyes to the magic of the game — it’s got me wanting to learn how to play some day!

Here’s my bigggest takeaway from our conversation:

Let your inner “nerd” shine, ditch the seriousness for some laughter, and embrace shared adventures. Whether you’re diving into a fantasy world through officially playing “Dungeons and Dragons” or creating your own imaginative, story-based game with creative characters, the heart of the matter is spending real, quality time together.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for perfect parenting or perfect play. It’s about giving it a shot, rolling the dice, and seeing where the journey takes you.

About Author

Playful Heart Parenting

Hi! I'm Mia.
Mom, stepmom, wife, songwriter, performer, and theater educator.
I love sharing ideas, tips, and templates for connecting with kids through low-to-no budget, waste-free, creative play.