You probably already know that spending time with family has a lasting positive impact on children’s emotional and social development. But what you might not know is exactly how an evening spent puzzling with the kids benefits them or how much family time you need to clock in to see the results.
First, some good news: When it comes to the rewards kids ages 3 to 11 reap from family time, research from the University of Toronto shows that amount has precious little to do with it. Instead, good old QT is king. “I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes. . . . Nada. Zippo,” sociologist and study author Melissa Milkie told the Washington Post. (Interestingly, Milkie found that this changes changes in adolescence, when spending more time with mom is connected to lower levels of delinquent behavior.) In other words, you can let go of that pang of guilt you get every time you dump out some blocks at your 5-year-old’s feet, give a big silent grin and scurry off into the other room to finish a conference call or load of laundry. So, what kind of family time really makes a difference in your child’s life? Read on to find out why quality time really matters, as well as some helpful suggestions for how to incorporate it into your schedule.
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1. It encourages open communication
No matter the activity, designated time spent together as a family—without the distraction of work, phones or chores—creates a space for open dialogue. Perhaps your kids have been meaning to talk to you about something but sensed you were too caught up in other tasks to listen (hey, it happens). When everyone has a lot on their minds, it’s easy to forget to check in with family about how their day went. Recurring family time solves the problem by providing your unit with a consistent opportunity to communicate and be heard—an experience that promotes emotional connection. Priceless.
2. It builds self-esteem
Aside from strengthening emotional bonds, communication (as described above) also helps build self-esteem in young people who may otherwise lack the confidence to contribute to conversation. In other words, giving children the chance to share details about their lives and chime in with opinions on current events in a relaxed family setting will make them feel valued and improve their sense of self-worth in and outside the nuclear unit.
3. It demonstrates positive family and relationship dynamics
Kids learn by copying their parents, say researchers at Michigan State University (but you already knew that, right?). This means that whenever the whole fam gets together, there’s occasion to teach (and learn) by example. Both parents stand to gain quite a bit from seeing how the other interacts with the kids, while the youngest members will benefit from seeing healthy relationship dynamics modeled by the grown-ups. (So yeah, maybe don’t choose family time to bicker with your significant other about who washes the most dishes.)
4. It reinforces family rules
Family rules play a huge role in ensuring a household runs like a well-oiled machine—and what better opportunity to get everyone on the same page than when the whole gang is in the same place, at the same time. Whether you want to convey the importance of listening to others without interruption or emphasize that everyone needs to chip in when it comes time to clean-up, designated time together will help get the message across.
5. It helps meet emotional needs
You might spend a ton of time around your family, but when that time coincides with other competing demands (like work, cleaning, running errands, etc.), it isn’t conducive to the kind of undivided attention and purposeful affection that helps relationships thrive. By setting aside time to spend with family at the exclusion of other things, you can truly focus on the emotional needs of your family members, while having yours as well.
6. It improves mental health
According to the findings of a research study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health, family rituals and quality time with parents correlates with improved mental health and fewer delinquent behaviors among adolescents, in particular. Bottom line: The teen years are no cake walk, but they might be considerably more manageable for both you and your child if you carve out some time together.
Sit down for family dinner. The benefits of family dinner are well-documented—for all the reasons listed above, plus one: This ritual is also said to encourage healthy eating habits, per the experts at Harvard University. Who hasn’t been tempted to hold out for a peaceful grown-ups-only meal once the kids are in bed? From time to time, that’s OK—but don’t miss too many opportunities to sit down together as this recurring dinner date promises to strengthen bonds and improve family dynamics overall. Plus, little kids really are more likely to take a bite of something green and leafy when doing so grants them membership to the adult dining club.
Go on a parent-child date. It’s important to bring the whole family together on a regular basis, but parents and kids benefit from one-on-one time, too. Romantic relationships can crash and burn unless a babysitter comes by once in a while, and the parent-child dynamic isn’t that different. A one-on-one date with your child might prove especially valuable in instances where major changes are occurring (i.e., after a major move, a change of schools or the birth of a new sibling). Plan a special day trip for just the two of you, and then trade places with your spouse next time around.
Organize a family game night. Pro tip: Successful family time should not feel like a chore. Avoid this scenario by introducing a weekly game night, so everyone can spend time together while enjoying screen-free entertainment. Pull out a pack of cards or a stack of your favorite family-friendly board games for time spent together that’s downright fun.
Enjoy a shared hobby. Find a hobby—painting, photography, gardening—that speaks to all the members of your family and engage in the activity together on an ongoing basis. A standing date that allows everyone to explore a mutual area of interest is the kind of quality time that both kids and parents will look forward to sharing
Take a camping trip. There’s no better way to connect with your family than by taking ‘em on a trip to a scenic location with limited cell service. Pack up your tent and sleeping bags (plus lots of marshmallows) for a monthly camping trip that features fireside chats, fresh air and plenty of bonding.
Have regular movie nights. Quality time with family can be a bit more passive: Have regular movie nights with your brood for chill time that nevertheless results in a meaningful shared experience. Just be sure to pick the movie in advance so you don’t spend the entire two hours arguing over what to watch and carve out sometime after the film for a casual group discussion.
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