Spending time together is one of the greatest gifts families can give to one another. Not only does quality time strengthen and build family bonds, but it also provides a sense of belonging and security for everyone in the family. In fact, research has shown that when families enjoy activities together, children not only learn important social skills but also have higher self-esteem. Strong family bonds also encourage better behavior in children, improve academic performance, strengthen parent-child communication, and teach your child how to be a good friend.
As a parent, you play a key role in cultivating and protecting these family bonds. But, building strong family connections doesn’t always happen naturally. In our hectic day-to-day lives, it can take a concerted effort to carve out time for your family.
If you want to make this firm foundation a reality in your family, commit to these 10 essential practices.
Schedule Family Time
Whether you have school-age children or teens, it takes planning to set aside family time. Some ways that you can do this:
Set aside time for family. Look at everyone’s schedule to see if there are any blocks of time that can be designated family time. Try to select a regular night, maybe once a week, when the entire family gets together for a fun activity. By keeping this night on a regular schedule, everyone will know that they need to keep that night clear for family time.
Plan small vacations together. Another way to incorporate family time into your schedule is to plan regular day trips. If this is something that sounds fun for your family, try to plan the trip at least one month in advance. Post it on the family calendar and make sure that everyone is aware of the plan.
Make and maintain some new traditions. You also can use this time to create family traditions like carving pumpkins every Halloween or picking the first strawberries of the summer season together. Some families enjoy attending the same local festival every year or entering a 5K walk or run together.
The options for creating family traditions are endless. Look for things that your entire family would enjoy.
Eat Meals Together
Choose a few nights during the week when you expect everyone to gather around the dinner table. Don’t allow phones or other electronics. Just eat a meal and have a conversation together.
Studies have shown that eating meals together has positive effects on children’s physical and mental well-being. It can also reinforce communication and strengthen family bonds.
If you’re unable to get together for dinner as a family because of busy schedules, try breakfast. The key is that you come together and enjoy a meal free of distractions.
Do Chores as a Family
Make cleaning your home or caring for the yard a responsibility for the whole family. Create a list of chores and have everyone sign up. Then set up a time during the week or on the weekend when everyone can tackle their chores at the same time.
If your teens have a demanding schedule and need a little more flexibility, give them a deadline to have their chores completed. But, remind them that doing chores together makes the job go much faster than doing them alone.
What’s more, doing chores together also can foster a sense of teamwork, especially if someone gets done early and is willing to help another family member complete their tasks. To make doing chores more rewarding, plan a small reward for when the work is done like getting ice cream together, watching a movie, or playing a board game.
Create a Mission Statement
When most parents think about mission statements, they think of non-profit organizations and businesses. But these documents work well for families, too. Though it may seem a little corny or too business-like, putting together a family mission statement can establish your families’ priorities.
A family mission statement also can remind everyone about your family’s core values or what you love most about each other. It is simple and fun to develop as a family. In fact, it is a great project for family night. Once completed, display your mission statement in a predominant place in your home. Read it, refer to it, and talk about it often. It helps solidify what is important to your family.
Have Family Meetings
Family meetings are a good time for everyone to check in with each other, air grievances, or discuss future plans. For instance, a family meeting is a good time to talk about an upcoming day trip, family vacation, or how you to plan to complete the chores next weekend.
These meetings can be scheduled events on your family calendar; or you can make them impromptu and allow any member of the family to call a meeting if they feel the need. Family meetings also can be used to set family goals.
Start each of these meetings by reading your family mission statement. If you have a large family, begin by asking if anyone has an issue or an item for the agenda. Write down what everyone wants to talk about and go through them one-by-one.
You may need to establish some guidelines for the meeting, like setting a time limit for each agenda item and implementing a “no talking rule” when someone else has the floor.
Emphasize, too, the need to be kind, considerate, and respectful. The goal is that these meetings allow you to solve family issues in a productive way.
Feeling supported by your family is one of the most important elements of building strong family bonds. Bonds like these will last your kids a lifetime. They will enjoy these strong bonds when they are your age and even after you are gone.
To create a sense of support, encourage everyone to learn what things are important to their family members and to do their best to support each other through the good and the bad times. Everyone in the family should feel empowered to share their good news as well as share their bad news.
The goal is that everyone in the family will rejoice together when things go well. And that they commiserate together when things do not go as planned like a poor grade, getting cut from the team, or losing the science fair competition. When families feel supported, getting through hard times becomes much easier.
Schedule Some Downtime
While family time is an important part of everyday life, there also is a need for some downtime, too. Not only should you encourage your kids to spend some quiet time alone to recharge, but you also need to carve out time for yourself.
Parenting is a huge responsibility that can take a toll on you. As a result, never feel bad about taking a break. Even the U.S. Department of Labor requires companies to give employees breaks throughout the workday.5 So, be sure you are taking a little time to yourself.
The reality is that you will be a better parent when you take care of yourself. Take a break and read a chapter in a book, go to the salon, ride your bike, spend time with friends, or play a round of golf. The key is that you do something you enjoy, even if only for a few minutes.
Research has shown that the more we give, the happier and more grateful we feel in our own lives. What’s more, giving your time and energy to make someone else’s life better is always a powerful learning experience.
When your family shares in these learning experiences together, it will strengthen your relationships. For instance, spending a day at the local food bank or taking a weekend to build a home for charity are valuable experiences you can share throughout your life.
What’s more, volunteering can expose kids to lots of different people and increase their appreciation for those who are different from them. It also teaches children to be more empathetic and less self-centered.
Volunteering has also been linked to a number of other improved health outcomes including better physical and mental health, increased life satisfaction, higher self-esteem and decreased depressive symptoms.
Overall, volunteering as a family is almost always is a positive experience for the entire family.
Get Involved in Your Child’s Interests
Strong families support their family members’ passions. Whether it involves attending their soccer games, reading a book series they love, or helping them collect Marvel figurines, it is important that you support your child’s interests.
If your child is passionate about NBA basketball, watch a game together. Or, if your child loves reading Harry Potter, read the series and then talk about it. If your child is in sports, band, Scouts, or another school activity, provide support in some way.
You don’t have to take on a huge leadership role. Find a way to show your kids that you support what they are doing and want to assist them with their pursuits, whatever those may be. If you are unsure of where you can help, ask your kids for their thoughts. Asking demonstrates that you care about the things they are interested in.
Join Other Families
No one lives in a bubble. We are all part of a community, so be sure your family is building relationships with other families. Whether this is within your neighborhood, your school system, your church, or some other avenue, it is important that you spend time with other families as well.
Doing things together, with other families, will strengthen your own family bonds and help you see how your family members interact with others.