Herald Journal Columns
Aug. 1, 2005, Herald Journal

Getting back to family


Parents usually just want what seems best for their children, and so we get them involved in a variety of activities. We want them to be able to experience new things and learn new skills.

My family is like lots of other families. It seems, most days of the week, we are traveling somewhere to my son’s or daughter’s varied activities – whether it’s my son’s piano lessons, soccer practice, or cub scout meeting or my daughter’s dance class.

And on those occasions and evenings when we have “nothing” scheduled, it’s appreciated by everyone – a time when we can have a sit-down dinner together, talk, play, and enjoy each other’s company. That’s what it is all about.

Getting back to family – family first – that’s what a speaker on a PBS showed titled his news program that aired some time ago. I have already mentioned this show and its focus, but it is worth repeating. The message has stuck with me – “getting back to family.” What is more important than that?

It’s great to have our children involved in activities, and there certainly are benefits, but not to the point of over-scheduling and compromising the family unit.

We don’t want the activities to monopolize all the family time. It’s also important, too, for kids to be “kids” and allow them to just play.

It is important that we make sure that we put our families first and put family time at the top of our priority list, which doesn’t mean having to engage in sophisticated activities together, but just eating together, conversing together and interacting with each other, reading together, playing a game, going for a walk – being together and showing our children that family time is important.

Sometimes, it means having to “schedule” time together, especially in our busy world today when everything is moving and going so much quicker. We may have to consciously “slow down” and make sure we spend time together as a family.

We did just that. Friday evenings are our family fun nights, in which we focus on family time together. We eat, converse, and play together, which sometimes means putting a blanket on the floor and having a picnic, grilling outside, or eating pizza at a restaurant, going for a bike ride, playing at a park, or going bowling. The point is that we spend time together.

I read an article in the Family Fun magazine, May 2005, entitled “Goblet of Choice,” in which a family, inspired by Harry Potter, started a family fun night to focus on family time together and to help award positive behavior.

The writer and mother, Heather Humrichouse, explained that at Hogwart’s school, points are awarded for good behavior and taken away for negative behavior. The house with the most at the end of the term wins the house cup trophy. So, to help stop sibling arguments, award positive behavior, and to help promote family togetherness, the family decided to do a version of the Hogwart’s house cup trophy system with their own family.

The children and the father (he wanted to be involved) had weekly tally charts in which the awarder of points, Mom, gave points for helping out and getting along with each other, and took away points for arguing, fighting, not doing a chore, etc.

The points were tallied each week, and whoever had the most points won the coveted “goblet of choice,” which was a coffee mug that the children decorated, along with the right to decide the dinner and activity choice for the family fun night. Consequently, things got easier for everyone around the house – household chores got easier, there was less sibling rivalry, and the family spent some quality time together.

Now, our family does our own version of the house trophy, the “goblet of choice,” with the goals being the same. Our kids enjoy choosing the activity and dinner idea, and it’s been a fun way to consciously focus on family fun!

How can you tell if your child is too busy? The website, www.kidshealth.org noted that sooner or later, children that are too busy will show signs of being just that – too busy. Keeping in mind that every child is different, children that are over-scheduled may feel tired, anxious, or depressed, fall behind on their schoolwork, and complain of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress, missed meals, or lack of sleep.

The key for busy families, the website noted, is to schedule activities in moderation and choose activities with your child’s interests, abilities, personality, temperament, and age in mind. If the activity is too hard, the child may become too frustrated. If the activity isn’t interesting and engaging for the child, she may be bored.

Here are some other tips the website offered for “slowing it down:”

• Set priorities. If your child is having a hard time keeping up academically, your child may need to drop an activity or cut back.

• Try and carpool with other parents.

• Agree on some ground rules before your child is signed up for too many activities. For example, limit activities to two afternoons or evenings a week during the school week.

• Before you agree on a certain activity, make sure your child knows how much time is required for the activity. Will there be time to practice between lessons? Does your child realize there is practice and a game weekly? Will homework suffer?

• Stay organized and keep a calendar. Display the calendar on the refrigerator or another spot that everyone can see so the whole family can stay informed.

• Try to balance activities for all of your children, yourself, and your family as a unit. My daughter comes along to my son’s soccer practices and games, and he comes along and attends her dance practices and recitals. Do things you enjoy for yourself, as well, so you stay energized too. Spend time together as a family.

• Know when to draw the line and say “no.” If your child is already doing a lot and really wants to get involved in another activity, talk about what other activity (ies) need to be eliminated to allow him to participate in the desired one.

• Don’t underestimate the importance of downtime. Everyone needs time to relax, do “nothing,” and just “hang out” – including parents.

National Kids’ Day

Around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, my son asked me why there isn’t a Kids’ Day, which I responded to by saying, “I can understand that question, however, almost every day is a ‘kids’ day.’” That may not be true in a child’s eyes.

Needless to say, my son and daughter were looking through their August issue of the Sesame Street magazine (well, it’s really my five-year-old daughter’s, but my eight-year-old likes to look through it, too), and they were eager to point out to me that there is, indeed, a national Kids’ Day.

Sunday, Aug. 7 has been designated National Kids’ Day, and if Sesame Street says so, it can’t be wrong? Wouldn’t you all agree?

The magazine recommends taking your child for a walk on this day and looking for all the bugs and birds you can spot together. Tell your child it is national Kids’ Day and do something together. Sounds like a great idea to me. It is never time wasted, just time worth the while!

Have a great week and mark Aug. 7 on your calendar as one special day!