According to “Importance of Family Rituals and Traditions” on ParentingToolbox.com, family rituals enhance a preschooler’s identity; create a connection between the preschooler and their family; and allow a preschooler to feel like a valued part of the family, greatly enhancing self esteem.
Family time can also help young children become more confident. “Many children are afraid to try new things because they are afraid of what others may think,” explains Elissa Thompson, a marriage and family therapist for Thunderbird Oasis Counseling in Arizona. “If they are frequently engaged in family time that encourages such things, they will be more likely to participate successfully in non-family activities.”
There is an important difference between “time” and “family time.” Natasha Hill of Hill Child Counseling advises parents to be conscientious about making family time interactive. That is, rather than simply supervising play on the playground, parents should interact with their children by accompanying them down the slide or pushing them on the swings. This involvement is what turns a mundane activity into a special family time. Remember, quality time is spent focusing attention on the child and sharing thoughts and feelings.
Family time and individual attention for each child should be in balance. “I recommend that parents set a date night with their child in order to spend one-on-one time together,” says Hill. “Kids really like it when their special time is named something fun.” This designation helps set apart the time as special time, even if the activity is as simple as popping popcorn and watching a movie. The activity itself may not be extremely involved, but the designation of a special time just for the child and parent helps children feel valued.
“Art projects are great to do with kids like collages using old magazines. Activities can be simple but provide a good opportunity to talk and learn what children are thinking,” says Thompson.
We all know that mealtime is an important touchpoint in families. “Family meal time seems to be a thing of the past and this is unfortunate because this is where communication can be so good,” says Thompson. “It’s an informal way to talk about the day and plan for future family time.”
“Family mealtime is the time of day that kids can check in with their parents. It’s a scheduled time when everyone knows they will connect,” echoes Hill. Although adolescence brings busy schedules, family time remains important to connect teens and parents. Research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University finds that the more children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. The reason is that this form of family time lays the groundwork for open communication within the family. Teens become aware that their parents are involved and will be asking a lot of questions and this may deter them from illicit activities.
Finding time for a family meal can be a challenge when after school activities and loads of laundry loom on the to-do list.
“I work with a lot of parents and children who feel disconnected, argue all the time and have poor communication. This is usually because there is no foundational basis for relationships, and their only communication is about who did their chores,” says Hill. This dissatisfaction with family relationships is one reason why teens may avoid family time such as a family meal. But, Hill’s prescription for increased connectedness in the family is to set aside special time each week with the child. It’s never too late to start spending special time together and sharing meals when possible during the week.
“Preparing meals together is great because it allows older and younger children a chance to do something for the family. They work together as a team,” says Thompson. As a result of this shared effort, the children are more likely to enjoy the family meal time that follows as they enjoy the fruit of their efforts.
Family meals don’t have to happen every night of the week; instead, set a schedule that works for everyone. Conflicting schedules are common, but a positive family mealtime experience each week will soon become just as important as the next school board meeting, baseball practice or study session.
Thompson recommends family meetings—weekly if the family is struggling with a difficult issue such as divorce or death, and every other week if things are running smoothly. “The family meeting gives children the chance to talk about their feelings and ask other family members for advice,” says Thompson. “This is a good place to model conflict resolution and problem solving.
Family game nights and sports activities are another fun way for families to enjoy their time together. “It gives the parent the opportunity to role model good sportsmanship,” explains Thompson.
Are teenagers really as disinterested in family time as they may appear? “It’s usually the teenagers who want to spend time with their parents more than the young children,” points out Hill. “They need a specific scheduled time even more than young children. If something better comes up, the teenager might pass on special time, but the parent should keep setting aside special time and not take this personally.”
Balancing the Leave it to Beaver ideal of the past with the “take it or leave it” attitude of today’s fast-paced culture can be a challenge for families. Remember that family time can happen any time, any where, as long as connections are being formed and the family is communicating. In addition to family time, special time with each child will increase their connectedness to the family and form long-lasting bonds.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen R. Covey
Written by the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, this book presents practical and philosophical guide to solving the problems that confront all families. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families shows how and why to have family meetings, the importance of keeping promises, how to balance family and individual needs and how to move from dependence to interdependence.
Fun Time, Family Time by Susan K. Perry
More than 700 activities, adventures, recipes and rituals designed to bring parents and children closer together. This book inspires parents to form their own activity ideas.
Fun on the Run: 324 Instant Family Activities by Cynthia L. Copeland
Beat those boring car rides and waits at the doctor’s office with 324 fun activity ideas that can be done anywhere. “I Heard It!” awards the first child to hear the secret word on the radio; “Body Double” eases long doctor waits by tracing the child’s outline on the exam table paper and allowing her to fill it in. With this handy guidebook, boredom will be a thing of the past!