All parents have the goal of raising happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. Most parents look for information online and from books and other resources related to child development, child psychology, and parenting to help them to be successful in achieving their goals. Yet parents may overlook the importance of day to day interaction with kids and teens as well as the influence of day to day family life as playing an essential role in supporting mental health and well-being for all family members.
Citing Parenting Matters, an exhaustive report published in 2016 by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)states, “Having a safe and loving home and spending time with family―playing, singing, reading, and talking―are very important. Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep also can make a big difference.”
Additionally, one of the principal findings by the authors of “Family Leisure Functioning: A Cross-National Study” published in (Leisure Sciences 2016), was the following: “Consistent and continued involvement in family leisure remains important to family cohesion, adaptability, functioning, and satisfaction with family life; however, more emphasis should be placed on creating satisfying family leisure experiences rather than simply high levels of family leisure involvement.”
Finally, the Search Institute has identified five types of positive family experiences, including (1) nurturing relationships, (2) establishing routines, (3) maintaining expectations, (4) adapting to challenges, and (5) connecting to the community. All five experiences can be strong predictors of quality of family life and resiliency.
Parents may think that keeping their children involved in extracurricular activities and helping them with their homework are the most important actions they can take to ensure that their kids and teens will become successful adults. However, they may overlook the importance of spending time interacting personally with their child or children.
When parents and kids spend time interacting and having fun together, the results are many and extremely valuable. From this experience over the years, children come to feel important and loved. They have the opportunity to adopt essential values from their parents. Parents have the chance to gain more in-depth knowledge about their children’s strengths and weaknesses, which enables them to provide sufficient support and proper guidance. During these times together, mainly when it’s one-on-one time, children feel free to express their thoughts and feelings. All of these experiences create a stronger parent-child bond, which leads to greater self-confidence, resilience, and self-reliance.
Here are a few activities to consider to increase family fun-time and bonding:
1. Family mealtime, which includes family input into developing the menu, helping prepare the food, setting the table, serving, and cleaning up. Having a regular time for meals with all family members expected to attend most of the time is essential. No electronic devices should be present during meals. Use this opportunity for family discussions related to what and how family members are doing, as well as planning family activities.
2. Get into the habit of reading to your children several times a week. For older kids and teens, ask what book they’re reading and then read it yourself. In both cases, engage them in a discussion. Ask what they liked about the book. If it was fiction, ask what your child thought about the outcome or any other plot points. Also, ask if they identified with any of the characters and if so, why. You can also ask if any of the characters reminded them of someone they know. Look for opportunities to discuss character traits and values. If the book is non-fiction, you can start by asking why your child selected it. You may want to continue a discussion about the topic and their interests. Ask your child what they learned and what they will do with the information.
3. Attend community events together such as a parade, carnival, public project, or fundraising projects like a walk or run.
4. Participate in religious activities together.
5. Plan for family game nights. Board games and card games are great ways to have fun.
6. Share music by listening, singing, or dancing together.
7. Participate in physical activity which could be playing catch or shooting baskets in the backyard or visiting the gym or pool together. Fly a kite together. Play Frisbee. Go to the beach and have fun.
8. Build a structure together with blocks or Legos.
9. Watch a movie together, whether at home or a theater. Discuss your impressions. Look for teachable moments and have an open discussion related to characters, values, and problem-solving.
10. Plan outdoor family activities such as hiking, bicycling, picnics, or camping.
These are just a few suggestions. Sit down with your children or hold a family meeting to brainstorm and plan fun things to share. Schedule the activities and commit to making it happen. You’ll find that spending time having fun strengthens your bond, encourages open communication and provides the chance to get to know each other even better. It also offers opportunities to discuss and share values and learn from one another.
Finally, your family will become more connected and cohesive. Your children will feel loved and accepted. You will all come to understand, accept, and appreciate each other.
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