It’s so easy to get carried away by activities (soccer, gymnastics, swimming), not mention work, projects, and TV or iPad screens. Sometimes, its seems like we are never really together as a family. We talked to a child psychiatrist, and mom of two, about some low-tech ways to bond and connect as a family.
At a time when there’s so much uncertainty in the world and kids’ stress is on the rise, it’s good to know there are a few simple things we can do as families to bolster resilience and joy for our children and ourselves:
1: Play Together.
And by play, I mean doing anything just for fun. For some families, this comes easily, and for others, it can seem like a chore. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be much- even 20-30 minutes a week can increase connection and decrease behavior problems. Paying attention while watching play fosters a sense of shared enjoyment, and that counts too!
2: Do Your Own Thing.
Didn’t I just say spend time together? Yes- but strong family relationships depend on separateness as much as they do on closeness. There has to be room for each family member to pursue their own interests AND be part of the family unit. Families and kids tend to struggle when that balance is lost. Consider making room for yourself and telling your kids what you’re up to- it models healthy patterns for the whole family.
3 : Eat Family Meals.
Again, not easy between activities and work schedules. But the simple ritual of family meals has been shown to strengthen relationships and lead to better developmental outcomes for kids.
4: Cultivate Community.
While kids only need one caring adult to buffer against the hardships of life, when it comes to positive relationships, the more the merrier. Having a community beyond the nuclear family helps kids feel secure and find support for a wider variety of life’s challenges. It also takes the pressure off parents “to do it all.” So how about starting a rotating multi-family potluck or neighbourhood cleanup? Kids who feel a larger sense of belonging and purpose are more likely to thrive.
5: Tell Family Stories. Kids love knowing the story of where they came from, but instead of starting at their birth, tell them stories about their relatives and ancestors too. You can build a family story of courage, compassion, resilience, or any number of values that you hold dear. Family stories help kids feel grounded and give them something to hold onto when things get tough.
As J.R.R. Tolkien said: “Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
Dr. Ashley P. Miller is the mother of an 8-year-old fashion designer and a pre-teen Rubik’s cuber. She’s also a family therapist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UBC. She writes about relationships, mental health and parent well-being.