In today's hectic, high-tech world, it can seem like we're constantly running in circles — rushing the kids to extracurricular activities, checking in with spouses via text, and scrambling to get dinner on the table. Even when we manage to balance it all, getting the family together in a room often turns into a bunch of nodding heads lost in their smartphone screens.
As our kids get older and become teenagers, it can seem even harder to connect. Video games, rolling eyes, and general disinterest in family engagement can make efforts at family time seem impossible.
This guide looks at several ways to increase the quality of your family time without spending a fortune or requiring days of planning and hassle. These practical and easy tips can help you and your children deepen your bonds while integrating responsibility and cooperation into their daily lives.
Recent studies show that attentive, face-to-face listening and engagement with teenagers help them open up about their feelings, futures, and problems.1 Childhood and adolescent mental illness have been on the rise for decades, with 13.84% of youths between 12 and 17 reporting suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year.2
By fostering an open and engaging connection with our children, we can lower their risks of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, while at the same time giving them the necessary resources to build relationships and friendships.
Simple, daily, meaningful interactions — family mealtimes, reading to your children at bedtime, engaging in family projects — are the foundation for your child's future social interactions. These activities serve to give children a more profound sense of community and communication while providing them with feelings of support and guidance.
Depending on your children's ages, personalities, and levels of extracurricular activities, getting the family to dinner regularly at a scheduled time can be tricky — but it's worthwhile. Making this one standard routine helps the family engage regularly and allows you to check in on their school experience, friendships, and social activities.
The more engaging and interactive you can make dinnertime, the better:
When the family can't all be together for family dinner, try arranging a family breakfast instead, or plan for a weekend activity that can bring everyone closer. Lastly, electronic devices should not be a part of the dinner experience. Dinner should be when you and your family can look each other in the eye and truly connect.
Carnivals, fairs, parades, and other family-friendly events are excellent opportunities to bond as a family unit while socializing with friends and your community. Most community events are advertised in local newspapers or online, so scan ahead and make arrangements so your entire family can attend together.
If you have teenage children who'd prefer to attend these events with friends, allow them to invite their friends along with your family, or give them some time to socialize separately. Then bring the unit back together. Independent socialization is important to teenagers, but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy the best of both worlds.
Family vacations can be a wonderful bonding experience. But if time or gas prices present limitations, shorter trips — like those to and from soccer practice — can be equally rewarding when you engage with your kids. Let your time in the car be a chance to catch up. You can learn much about your kid's life on a short car ride.
Board and card games are inexpensive and interactive ways to enjoy time as a family. Try letting your children choose the games on family game nights, and encourage them to find games you've never played. Learning the rules of a new game can be exciting, and if your children teach you to play, they gain additional insights and communication skills.
Many people enjoy music alone, but sharing the experience also invites bonding. What songs do your children enjoy? Try playing some of their favorite music as you work together to do chores, prepare dinner, or enjoy other activities. Or simply play music and dance together. Sharing music can mean sharing joy.
Building a project or model can be as simple as breaking out the Legos with a toddler or as complex as investing time in building a model airplane with a teenager. The main point is that you’re doing something together that takes skill, creativity, and patience. Discuss how you can integrate different ideas into the project.
If your older child is tasked with doing a project for homework, ask how you can help — while leaving the principal creation to them. Consider how you can help facilitate their ideas and assist in manifesting their imagined outcome. These activities help develop critical thinking skills and illustrate the importance of teamwork.
Volunteering benefits everyone and gives a greater sense of community, empathy, and social responsibility. A recent study in the U.K. showed that volunteers reported greater satisfaction with their lives and overall better health compared to those who don't volunteer.3
By introducing your children to volunteering when they're young, you're not only interacting with them but also giving them valuable life lessons that can contribute to their happiness and overall self-worth throughout their lives. Volunteering engagements can also introduce them to new friends and inspire them in future careers or educational paths.
Getting physically active with your kids is an excellent way to promote physical and mental health while providing social engagement and family bonding. Ask your children what activities they enjoy. Suggest ideas like:
For example, if you like biking, suggest taking a daily afternoon bike ride around the neighborhood. This can be an engaging and interactive shared activity. If you live near hiking trails, set aside one day a week (or more) to explore together. Going on camping excursions with your kids teaches them innumerable life skills and allows them to bond with family and nature.
If you live in an urban area without campgrounds nearby, consider going on a weekly picnic at a local park. Kids from toddler-age to teenagers can benefit from more time outdoors without phones or computers as distractions.
Bring a frisbee, a game of Bocce ball, or another outdoor activity to keep them engaged. It'll also engage you and contribute to a fun and leisurely afternoon.
Reading to your children is about more than just putting them to sleep. It involves critical thinking and engagement. Work on talking with your kids about the stories you read together. If your kids are older, try reading a book they're reading for school or fun and talk to them about it.
Ask questions like:
Gaining insight into how your children perceive books — and even movies and TV — is critical to getting to know them and how they are developing their perceptions of the world. It can also open doors to discussing their friendships, social standing in school, and thoughts about society.
After all, we're building people who will one day run this world. Getting them thinking is a great way to ensure they are happy and engaged in sharing their thoughts and feelings in healthy and productive ways.
Summertime can be a real struggle for kids, especially those without siblings or those who live in a neighborhood without many friends their age. If summertime boredom frustrates your kids and you’re not sure what fun activities to suggest, consider setting up a scavenger hunt.
Scavenger hunts can work for small or larger groups and can be tailored to any age range. They're great for birthday parties but can be just as easily manufactured on a rainy day or even during a long car ride. You can even turn mundane activities like chores into scavenger hunts.
Below are some basic instructions on setting up a scavenger hunt for your family.
You'll need 10-30 minutes for preparation and approximately 15 minutes for the whole game.
You can find scavenger hunt ideas on many websites, ranging from neighborhood to indoor to road trip hunts. Not only can these activities engage children in an interactive and fun way, but they can also teach them about nature and give them new ideas for other creative outlets.
Another fun and creative way to engage your kids in collaborative interaction is by making an adventure film together. With today's smartphone technology, you can record a movie just about anywhere — but if you're in a more exotic environment like on a camping trip, it can be even more exciting.
Depending on your children's ages, they can help with any or all aspects of this process, from setting up scenes to editing.
Time varies significantly depending on how complex the project is that you want to film. A short video clip could take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
Many families find great bonding in musical activities. Writing music as a family can even feel like forging a family crest — it’s something unique to just your family and gives your kids a sense of kinship and belonging.
Jingles are short songs most associated with commercials. It can take as little as a minute to write a jingle, but when collaborating with your family, you want everyone’s input. You can even use jingles to help younger children remember their addresses and phone numbers.
This activity takes inspiration alone and can take one minute or one hour, including recording the song.
Finding ways to take the struggle out of chores will do wonders for your life. It will motivate you and your family to get them done while at the same time promoting positive bonds and eliciting feelings of accomplishment.
When you make work fun, it's no longer like work. You are engaged in the activity and feel pride in your productivity. Here are several ways to make chores fun for the whole family.
Competition is an excellent motivator for many, and engaging kids in a friendly competition over chores is a great way to entice them to action. Try using your "sports announcer voice" and providing commentary on the "players" as they race to see who can clean their room or put away the dishes the fastest.
Imagine you're a family of cats, dogs, giraffes, or whatever you want. Do your tasks as these animals.
Most kids don’t like picking up clothes or toys. Creating a sport or game out of it can help them find enjoyment and not mind completing the task. For example, you can participate in laundry basketball, where kids shoot and toss their dirty clothes into the hamper. Another idea is toy sprints, where your kid picks up a toy and dashes to deposit it into the toybox. Repeat this until all toys are put away.
Dancing through chores is one of the best ways to get into the task and enjoy yourself. It's also an effective way to get your heart pumping and burn off some calories. Involving the whole family in a dance-a-thon while cleaning can be a great way to spend an otherwise rainy, dull afternoon.
Taking breaks that involve fun activities keeps the motivation going. If you're doing yard work, take a break and run through the sprinklers or jump on the trampoline. Then go back to your chosen task.
Switch up your chore chart weekly so that each kid is not doing the same weekly tasks. Kids can get bored with washing dishes every day so try switching days for simple tasks.
Try taking turns at "story-time" during repetitive tasks like sweeping or doing dishes or laundry. This can be a great insight into the imagination of your kids.
Ultimately, giving children chores gives them a sense of purpose. And giving them a sense of fun and creativity while doing chores will instill self-reliance, responsibility, work ethic, and other vital life skills. From toddlers to high school seniors, everyone can contribute to housework, yard work, and the overall functioning of a home. And when they do, they value their home and family more than ever.
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Attentive listening helps teens open up, study finds (2021, June 4). University of Reading, Science Daily. Retrieved on June 15, 2022, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/06/210604122722.htm.
Youth ranking 2021. Mental Health America. Retrieved on June 15, 2022, from https://www.mhanational.org/issues/2021/mental-health-america-youth-data.
Lockard, T. (2022, February 2). How volunteering improves mental health. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved on June 12, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2022/How-Volunteering-Improves-Mental-Health#.