By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
How do you connect as a family? Experts point to four major ways to make the most of family time. Read more >
1. Eat Together. Research study after research study shows the powerful effects that happen when families eat together. When families eat together fives times a week or more, kids are less likely to drink alcohol, get depressed, smoke, develop eating disorders, take drugs, or consider suicide. They’re also more likely to get better grades in school, wait to have sexual intercourse until they’re older, and eat their vegetables.
Yet, the way families eat together matters more than just merely eating together with the TV on. (In fact, it’s better if the TV is off.) Researchers talking to Alix Spiegel of National Public Radio say that families that “maintained complex conversation, rich with explanation, storytelling, and more,” raised kids who had stronger literacy and language skills. Another study found that three factors made family meals more powerful: 1. Having assigned roles (such as who sets the table and so on), 2. Being genuinely concerned about each family member’s daily activities, and 3. Showing family members genuine empathy. Almost all parents say they feel they are doing the right thing when their family eats dinner together.
2. Meet Together. Effective family meetings help family members feel more connected to each other. Meeting once a week (even for a short time) can help family members talk about what matters and how to problem solve issues the family faces. Family meetings also empower kids by giving them a voice in the family. To learn more about effective family meetings, read “It’s Time for a Family Meeting!”
3. Play Together. Successful families also have fun together on a regular basis. Whether it’s a family fun night or fun family outings, families that play together, stay together.
When kids are younger, play with them in ways that they like best. Some want you to dress up. Others want you to paint with them. Some want to run outside. Many like playing simple board and card games. As kids get older, continue to follow their lead for family fun. When they’re stumped, do an activity that you know that they’ll like, such as going swimming, playing mini golf, going for a family bike ride, or playing soccer. Teenagers can act like they don’t want anything to do with you, but most will perk up and be happy to participate if you take them out for a treat or for a meal. (You don’t need to spend a lot.) Even if your family goes to the movies, it’s okay if your teenager sits 20 rows behind you. (Many teenagers think just being in the same movie theater can be very close.)
Find more tips for family fun here.
4. Hang Out Together. The unscheduled, hanging out times are important too. Cuddle and read a book aloud to your child. Make faces with your junior high kid. Tease your older teenager about drinking milk right out the carton instead of pouring the milk into a glass. Make yourself approachable as a parent. When my kids were young, I spent most of my time sitting on the floor with them. They would crawl in and out of my lap as we played together. As my kids became older, I hung out with them, stopping by their bedrooms or swinging by the computer. Sometimes when they were playing video games, I’d ask if I could join in on the next round. (They loved beating me, particularly if they were playing a video game that was frustrating them.)
My kids also know that I like to go for a brisk walk outside every day as much as possible. When they were younger, they’d join me on their trikes, then their bikes, and then their skateboards. As teenagers, they sometimes would join me for part of the walk and then take off for a friend’s. When they got their driver’s license, they often showed up with the car, honking and waving as I walked.
The way you interact with your kids tells them a lot about how much you value and care about them. Yes, it’s important to teach them boundaries, but it’s also critical that kids know that you’re someone to trust, someone who can be fun at times, and someone they know they can count on—always.
1. Family Circle editors, “Pull Up a Chair,” Family Circle magazine, February 2011.
2. Alix Spiegel, “The Family Dinner Deconstructed,” National Public Radio, Morning Edition, February 7, 2008.
3. Time editors, “The Magic of the Family meal,” Time magazine, June 4, 2006.
4. John McKenzie, “Family Dinner Linked to Better Grades for Teens,” ABC News, September 13, 2005.
5. Deb Gebeke and Kim Bushaw, “Family Communication and Family Meetings,” Work and Family Life Newsletter, volume 5, number 4, North Dakota State University, April 1991.
6. Time Together, ParentFurther.
7. Image via cscott2006 on Flick’r.