The Importance of Family Time
by Jenni Watts Evans
The Parenting Center of Children’s Hospital
Today’s families are suffering from a lack of time. The daily grind is more like scheduled hyperactivity. Often the first thing to get pushed to the side in our busy routines is time together…Family Time. So, although these summer months are notoriously good for trips to the beach and relaxed routines, don’t forget that it is also a good time to strengthen your family relationships by reestablishing emotional connections and family identity.
Create A New Family Tradition. Traditions give families – and the individuals in them – an identity and a sense of belonging. Families that make a conscious effort to spend time together have been found to boost children’s self-confidence and self- esteem. These children tend to be more resilient and are better problem solvers.
Make a big family breakfast on Sunday mornings – or do omelets and pancakes for dinner Sunday night and follow it with a game of cards. Choose one night to have pizza and a movie – or stir fry and a walk! Even having a special way to say goodnight each night at bedtime, or a song to sing in the car on long trips helps build the bonds and memories that make families strong.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. As a matter of fact, if you start with something simple you are more likely to have everyone’s participation.
Keep The Old. Old routines are really your family’s first traditions. Never forget the importance of meals eaten together, chores and cleaning done as a group, bedtime rituals, and Saturday morning shopping. A large federal study of American teenagers found a strong correlation between family meals and academic success, healthy psychological adjustment, low drug use, delayed sexual behavior, and low suicidal risk. Many of the teens surveyed rated "not enough time with family” as their top concern.
Family routines provide times when children and parents relax and talk about the events in their lives and the things on their minds. Mornings and evenings can get scattered – especially with school-age children and teens who have their own schedules. Be sure to take a few minutes to sit – yes, sit down in a chair – and eat together. Ask about their day and tell about yours. My kids get a kick out of hearing about a meeting or a discussion from my day at the office – or even what I ate for lunch. By sharing daily experiences, parents impart values and model problem solving that become part of the family culture.
Nurture Relationships. In addition to time as a family, summer is a good time to remember your children’s needs as individuals. Arrange dates between individual parents and children – a special time every other week or so to do something you both like. It may be a craft project or a trip to the bowling alley but it will give you time to focus only on each other. If your children have grandparents, aunts or close adult friends nearby, encourage them to spend some one-on-one time with your child.
Help your child stay in touch with their school friends, too, by arranging playdates or activities throughout the summer. In-school friendships are strengthened by relationships outside of the classroom. Children can use the extra time to practice and iron out important social skills.
And don’t forget where it all began! You and your spouse should plan some time to focus on each other – whether it’s a coffee break during the day or a night out, grown-ups need to nurture their own relationships in order to build surrounding family relationships. A strong relationship between parents is an indicator of a healthy family.
Treasure the Moments. Whether it’s a hug on the go or a relaxing snuggle on the couch with a book, families need to stay in touch – literally. Touch is a powerful way to communicate and create connection. When my daughter is feeling out of sorts, we "go nose-to-nose” for a quick close-up talk. Even a pat on the back can remind your child that you’re there and strengthen your bond. Children know they are loved when they are given tangible evidence through parents’ hugs, touches, and expressions of appreciation. A hug is a great way to start every day.
Clown Around. Find time to be silly and spontaneous as a family. Turn on some music and dance, practice telling – and re-telling – your favorite jokes.
The most powerful tool you have as a parent is your relationship with your children. Through positive interactions, adults model and teach the values that will shape children as they grow. Because time is so short, families need to plan time together and make it a priority. So, start up a game of charades or pull out a board game to get everyone involved in what will be your family’s best memories when we all get back to the grind in the fall – and we have to tell "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation.”
Seek out other effective families
Spend time in community groups and with families who are as intentional as you are about being happy, effective, and healthy.
Looking for a place to start? Try the parks around town, take a walk, hang out in front of your house instead of in back….Parents of young children can come check out the Parenting Center at our Open House - Friday, May 31st, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.