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.
Why is family time important?
Make family mealtimes interactive
Attend family-friendly events
Family game nights
Build a project or model together
Read with your children
Prepare a scavenger hunt
Make a family adventure movie
Write family songs and jingles
Make a game of chores
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:
- Invite your children to help pick the dinner menu and prepare the food.
- Allow younger children to set the table.
- Engage everyone in the cleanup after it’s over.
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:
- Going for a hike
- Taking a bike ride
- Setting up a picnic
- Camping overnight
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:
- What makes the characters tick?
- What do you think about the characters’ choices in a story?
- What draws you to this book?
- How do you feel about the setting and the plot of the story?
- Do the characters remind you of people you know?
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.
What you need
- Scavenger hunt lists
- Pens or pencils
- Bags or boxes to collect items in
- A prize for the winner
You’ll need 10-30 minutes for preparation and approximately 15 minutes for the whole game.
How to set it up
Divide the group into two teams. It still works if you’re playing a game with just one kid. They’ll just have less competition in finding the items.
Explain the rules. Each scavenger hunt list will have several items to find. The team that finds the items first in a set period wins.
Establish parameters for the hunt. Is it limited to the backyard? The backseat of the car? The living room? This will depend upon your circumstances.
Explain the items on the list, if needed, and show the players how to collect items. Some scavenger hunts have players take a phone pic of their finds, while others have players bring back the object in a bag or box.
Determine and state how the winner will be decided.
Give the kids the tools to start. This will usually include the scavenger hunt list, pens or pencils to mark their findings, a bag or box for collection, or a phone with a camera for photographing finds.
Assign a timekeeper to each team. Teams must compile their discoveries and make it across the finish line within a specific time frame (decided by you).
Start the 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.
What you need
- A camera, smartphone, or tablet for recording
- An outline for what you want to film
- A location established for the setting
- Actors (your family)
- Costumes, if needed
- Simple editing software
- Access to the internet for sharing (if desired)
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.
How to set it up
Establish your plan. Get input from everyone involved. What do you want to make a movie about? What will happen in each scene? Who are the characters? When does the story take place? Where does the story take place? As you establish these plot elements, begin storyboarding, drawing out the scenes like they’re in a comic book.
Scout locations. Choose where you’re going to film each scene and prepare how to set up the shots.
Assemble props and costumes. Props and costumes are often the most fun elements of making a movie for kids. Break out the Halloween costumes or hit up your local thrift store to assemble a wardrobe for the cast. Consider the fun of costume makeup as well. Kids tend to enjoy being in the spotlight and all the details that build up to it.
Film it. In fact, film as much as you can. For example, if you’ve got running scenes in your movie concept, get as many shots as possible of the kids running in costume. They’ll prove handy in editing.
Put it together. Editing can be fun and engaging, teaching your kids a lot about the movie creation process. And if you have older kids, they may also teach you a fair bit about movie editing since many are tech-savvy.
Share it. If you want to upload your short film, choose from social media sites like YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram.
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.
What you need
- A topic for the song or jingle
- Musical accompaniment
- Recording device (computer, phone, camera, etc.)
This activity takes inspiration alone and can take one minute or one hour, including recording the song.
How to set it up
Decide on a subject for your song or jingle. It can be about anything. Sometimes the more absurd an issue is, the funnier and more memorable the outcome. Another key element is keeping it personal to you and your family members. How do your kids see themselves? How do they see you?
Write lyrics. Writing the song is collaborative and involves finding a catchy rhyme that’s easy to remember and sticks in your mind — just like a commercial jingle.
Come up with a catchy tune. Using the lyrics you’ve created, develop your song with additional music as needed.
Repeat the jingle or song. Through repetition, we develop familiarity. For instance, if you’ve created a jingle about brushing your teeth, repeat it with your kids every night near bedtime.
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.
Turn it into a competition
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.
Play pretend while doing chores
Imagine you’re a family of cats, dogs, giraffes, or whatever you want. Do your tasks as these animals.
Create a chore sport
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.
Take fun breaks
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.
Keep up the variety
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.
Tell stories during mundane 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.
 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#.