Having a family can mean running a jam-packed schedule. While the repetitive activities of family life, like taking the kids to school, managing bills and keeping the house clean, can turn into a messy whirlwind, there are ways to instill moments of connection every day. Small changes and intentional time to bond can significantly improve your family’s quality of life.
Here are six easy ways to bring your family together and provide a well-deserved break from the hustle of your daily lives.
1. Initiate Family Dinners
Dinner is the one meal of the day when busy families have the opportunity to get together, listen to each other, work through challenges, and laugh. Anne Fishel, an associate professor of psychology at Harvard University and the author of Home for Dinner, says that regular family meals have a more significant correlation with high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports, or creating art.
Even if you can only bring everyone to the table a few times a week, family dinners often lead to healthier meals and better eating habits outside the home, among other benefits, according to a recent study from the Harvard School of Health.
2. Read Together
Reading with your family is one of the best ways to ensure steady brain development and ongoing brain health. In a six-month daily reading program from Carnegie Mellon, scientists discovered that “the volume of white matter in the language area of the brain actually increased for regular readers." Because white matter is key to the speed and transmission of electrical nerve signals, such as for reading and learning, this is all the more reason to help kids adopt a healthy love of reading.
Experts universally agree that reading to your children as babies can lead to significantly stronger vocabulary and intellectual growth later in life. And just 15 minutes spent sharing a story or book can lead to “accelerated reading gains—that is, gains higher than the national average” for your children.
Reading passively also teaches kids how to focus for an extended time—increasingly a prized skill among today’s endless digital distractions—and is a terrific way for kids and adults to unwind and transition into bedtime.
For older children, a family book club can help maintain and deepen a reading routine. When families get together to discuss books, it not only hones essential critical thinking abilities but also allows children to form and voice their own opinions. Expressing their views is a valuable skill that may not be well-developed in traditional learning environments.
3. Work on a Group Project
Find a project that has a tangible result—constructing a toothpick house, Adirondack chair, robot, or any number of arts and craft projects, for example. “Every time a child builds and creates a structure or even an entire world, kids have to use reasoning and critical thinking skills,” notes Jessica Lopa, a school psychologist and founder of Mommy University. “They also have to problem solve when something does not work the way they hoped it would. These skills are what make children become well-rounded, independent, and successful adults.”
4. Prioritize One-On-One Time
One-on-one time is a must for couples to reconnect, and it’s also an excellent way for parents to spend quality time with individual children. Family life is so overloaded with work, sports, appointments, and school activities – it can be challenging to find the time to enjoy each other's company. But it’s important – studies show that prioritizing this time matters in the health and longevity of relationships.
Likewise, scheduling this time with your kids is a way to ensure they feel special and receive the individual attention they often crave. Remember, these activities don't have to be extravagant: a homemade picnic, visit to a local museum, or even volunteer activity can often be the perfect way to spend time together.
5. Head to the Movies
Even in the age of digital streaming services, the silver screen still holds an unmatched allure, transporting viewers to new places, opening their minds to new aspirations and experiences, and offering families an opportunity to bond away from cell phones, doorbells, family pets, and the many other distractions of modern life.
“To me personally, movies are about escapism,” Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told ThoughtEconomics in a 2011 interview. “When I walk into that theatre, I don’t have to worry about what is going on outside.” And coming to a consensus on what movie to see can be a great way to start a wide-ranging family discussion, creating a window both into each individual member’s personal taste as well as the common interests that unite you as a whole. Keep an eye out for free or discounted showings to make the outing as budget-friendly as it is fun.
6. Make Vacations a Priority
Vacation is like sleep—your mind and body need it to recharge—and its a key time for families to reconnect and spend time together. Unfortunately, the average American took only 54% of his or her allotted vacation time in the previous 12 months, according to a 2018 study from Glassdoor.
You need not travel far to get the benefits of unplugging and spending time together: If finances are a concern, get creative about finding affordable getaways close to home. Better yet, plan a staycation and enjoy some activities close to home while sleeping in your own bed, backyard, or living room fort.
Incorporating these activities into your family's routine can provide simple and meaningful ways to not only bond, but to also improve your overall quality of life.