Make your family’s health and happiness the focus this year by gathering setting family goals (notice we didn’t use the word resolution — see note at bottom). Here are suggestions that offer huge rewards for kids and parents:
Maximize Family Time by Downplaying “Downtime”
The average family spends 37 minutes of quality time together. Increase family time by hacking screen time, often disguised as downtime. Many people spend an average of three hours per day on social media, TV or the internet, so time for meaningful family bonding is often lost in front of screens. Be deliberate with evenings and weekends. Don't let precious minutes slip away.
Eat Meals Together (as often as possible)
Eating meals as a family boosts health, saves money and improves a child’s self-esteem. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that adolescents who eat with their families fewer than three times per week are more likely to participate in risky behaviors (drugs, alcohol, smoking). Experts at Stanford Children's Health say that children who regularly eat with their parents are more confident and connected.
Even busy families can find time to eat together. Grab-and-go grocery store options, crockpot meals, or make-ahead casseroles make gathering as a family feasible, even on hectic nights.
Prioritize Family Game Night
It may be challenging to pry kids away from electronics, but family game night is a great way to foster face-to-face connection. This simple, inexpensive ritual yields benefits such as improved academic performance, enhanced problem-solving skills and an opportunity to practice sportsmanship. Plus, who doesn’t love game night? To ensure participation, turn off electronics and choose games that are suitable for everyone. If you have a multi-age family, pair younger kids with older siblings and alternate easy games with harder ones.
Regularly Read to (or with) the Kids
Children who have regular exposure to books enjoy lasting academic and social benefits. When a parent reads one book per day to a child, he is exposed to 290,000 additional words by kindergarten. Regular readers have higher levels of empathy and exhibit fewer risky behaviors.
If your child will no longer read with you, discuss books you're both reading or listen to audiobooks together on the way to school. Making books a priority encourages lifelong intellectual curiosity.
Spend More Time Outside
Children today spend more time indoors than any generation before them. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, American children spend four to seven minutes per day playing outdoors while many spend up to seven hours in front of screens.
Make outdoor time a family activity. Go for a walk after dinner, play flag football in the backyard, or head for a neighborhood park. You’ll all be rewarded with benefits such as increased immunity and attention span, and enhanced cognitive and social development.
Be Kind and Courteous
Being polite and courteous is in sharp decline. The current climate of incivility (bullying, lying, showing a lack of empathy for others) is impossible to ignore. We see it in the news, on social media and during everyday activities.
Children learn behavior by watching parents, so it’s possible to create a culture of respect at home. Parents can demonstrate how to disagree with positivity, stress the importance of kindness and empathy, and insist that all family members treat others with dignity and respect. Kids who see parents prioritizing civility are better protected from harm that societal stress causes to health and well-being.
None of these family goals require large amounts of time, effort or money, but they yield valuable long-term results. January may be a good time to begin, but quality family time and showing kindness to others are important all year long.
How to Fit Family Time into a Busy Schedule
How do we squeeze family time into weeknights when work runs late or school obligations beckon? Here are a few suggestions:
Just Say No (to non-essentials): Learn to graciously say no to things that don't matter so you can say yes to what does.
Involve Kids in Meal Prep and Chores: Turn dinner prep and clean up into family time. Use the time to teach kids valuable life skills and work ethic, while talking about their day. Bonus: Children often feel a deep sense of pride when contributing to family life.
Find a Family Hobby: Build memories with kids doing activities such as geocaching, horseback riding, camping, stamp collecting, model building or martial arts. If your child is already passionate about a hobby, ask her to teach you.
Shannon Dean is the mother of two sons. She enjoys writing about the health and happiness of families.
Editor’s note: The “R” Word
Many people shy away from the word “resolution” – maybe because it feels like a burden or too much responsibility. Some may even say resolutions are a set up for failure. But a resolution is simply a pledge or promise. Who better to make a promise to than your own family? So, we’re using the word “goals” — family goals. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Keep them simple, intentional and fun!