Is your family becoming almost like strangers, meeting each other coming and going from one activity to another? Slow down, take control, and schedule in family time to foster a well-balanced and all-around happier family. (Some of these ideas have already been posted but some have not.)
·Start with a family meeting. Even young children can participate in a discussion that can be as general as asking what kids and adults would like to see to have a happier family. Ask about their activities, and their commitment to them. Do they love something or are they doing it because either you or their friends expect them to? Is it fun or stressful? Take this time to ask about whether they have other pursuits they’d like to consider, desire more unstructured time, or whether they feel their life is just right as it is. Avoid leading kids into any answers and don’t make them feel something is “wrong” with their family life now. Tell them you just want to check and make sure of everyone’s contentment with things and whether they feel the family as a whole is effectively balancing school, family time, work and community.
·Pick a family night. Designate one night a week as family time. It can be a movie night, game night, pizza or take-out night, entertainment night (such as karaoke or dance performances), or even a time to exercise together (ride bikes, go for a walk, or go to the park). The point is to be together in a quality fashion. Having a spouse plop in front of the television, a teen playing video or computer games, or young kids relegated to a back room does not bond family togetherness. Do things together, and discuss the coming week’s activities to build enthusiasm and momentum for family time together.
·Encourage kid friendships. Sure, your food bill may soar, but encourage children to bring their friends over, stay for dinner, and participate in family time. Time with friends in unstructured play helps to build relationships, learn things like give and take and sharing, and also how different families do things differently. For parents, having your kids’ friends come to your house means that not only do you know who your child is hanging out with, what he’s doing and where he is at, but it helps to foster a greater level of understanding as to what makes your child tick. Just observing kids interact and play helps parents to better understand their child’s interests and passions, which in turn can be utilized in future family time gatherings.
·Eat together. You’ve heard this before, but child experts really emphasize that this simple act improves family time with members through conversation and togetherness. Research clearly shows that eating meals as a family is one of the most important things you can do to stay connected, especially with older children and teens. Eating meals together should be seen as a positive experience, important, and a priority. It’s a chance to casually ask about a child’s day, interests, concerns, needs, and a great way to initiate good ol’ talk time.
·Share responsibilities. Children really should be active contributors to the household. Get kids involved with taking out the trash, setting the table, cooking meals, cleaning up after themselves, or raking leaves. It’s even better if these chores can be done in conjunction with family time so all members contribute in some way. Kids won’t always do the same quality job as adults, but they need to start somewhere, and will improve with positive encouragement and reinforcement.
·Set reasonable expectations for activity levels. Some kids want to participation in everything, and are perfectly happy to have structured activities each night of the week. With other kids, parents have to push and prod to get them to willingly participate in even a single activity. Balance is the key for happiness and overall family time quality. Consider a child’s age and interests and be sure to weigh those against what your own dreams of what you hope your kids will thrive in. Accept that your kid’s may not share your passions or interests, and then find out what does make them excel.
·Make sure it’s possible. Many activities nowadays require an increasing amount of time and financial resources. Consider transportation, practice conflicts that will require juggling to be on time and get picked up on time, and missed games or competitions due to being only one place at a time. Be sure your family finances can afford activities such as all-star cheer, competitive dance, or select sports, which can require traveling, additional uniforms, and equipment purchases.
It takes commitment by kids and parents alike to successfully balance school, family time, work demands, and community participation. Families should meet and discuss commitment levels and establish expectations in advance before allowing kids to sign up for ambitious programs or year-long activities. Family time success is dependent on an “all for one and one for all” commitment that is free from whining. Here are things to consider:
·Require a commitment of your kids. While you should be willing to let kids change from interest to interest–after all, that’s how they really learn what they love and what they don’t–do not let them be quitters. Many teams accept a certain number of kids or build programs based on participation, and kids should be taught that they need to stay committed for the season. After that, they don’t have to return. But kids should commit to activities and agree in advance not to whine about practice, getting up early, or yet another game. That type of behavior creates negative family time issues. If you’re in doubt that your child will like a year-long all-star cheerleading program, for example, then only sign her up for recreational cheer. If she exhibits enthusiasm and commitment to the sport, then next year you can always consider increasing participation levels. And just because a child has natural talent in an area (i.e. baseball), it doesn’t mean he will “love” the sport and want to play on a select (hand-picked) group, even if chosen. Be honest, be fair, and allow your kids to say no before you agree to yet more practices.
·Be sure your spouse is committed as well. Activities and programs require commitment and support of the spouse as well, particularly if a family has multiple kids and mom and dad may be scurrying in different directions.
·Be your child’s best fan. Coaches and program directors increasingly express dismay as to how overscheduled parents nowadays drop their kids off to practice, games and performances and pick them up at the end without staying to watch their child in action. While remaining at events isn’t always possible, parents should make it a priority in their lives as well and positively support kids. That being said, remember that there is a difference between positive support and encouragement and being the backstage mom or screaming dad that everyone hates to have in their program.
·Have fun with your kids for the best family time of all. Enjoy your kids, their activities, their talent (or lack of in certain areas) and embrace being a family. The best family time memories are often those just spent together as a team, sharing jokes, eating together, and having fun.