Healthy Habits for the Whole Family
Today, we live in a world defined by speed, efficiency and glittering technology. Most of us own desktops and laptops, manage several email accounts and constantly check our smart phones. Many families have parents who work full-time, with children who go to school and have busy schedules of their own, from studying to participating in the throes of adolescent social life.
In an age ruled by deadlines and smart phones, what are some activities that families can do together, which not only improves one’s overall health and strengthens family bonds, but is also fun and simple? If you are seeking creative ways to build upon “family time,” here are some suggestions.
Cooking as a Family
Cooking can be one of the most relaxing and fun activities that a family can do together. Rather than delegating cooking responsibilities to just one person (that is a lot of work!), ordering in or going out to eat, get creative and cook together. Food is all about making smart and delicious choices, and cooking, like eating, should be a communal act where every family member participates. Cooking meals together can involve menu planning for the week, where kids should also have a say and help shape meals. It can also involve going grocery shopping together, where fresh vegetables and fruits can be purchased at colorful farmers markets. Cooking as a family should be thought of as less a chore and more a grounded, holistic practice that involves the entire family.
Even if you never took part in regular family nights while growing up, it is an activity that we all are probably familiar with. It is a simple idea: choose one night of the week to do something meaningful with everyone in the family. As a study conducted by the University of Michigan shows, children on average spend a little more than 40 minutes every week having “household conversations,” while spending 12 hours a week watching television. This shows that there are plenty of distractions that stop families from spending meaningful time together.
As family night is a simple idea, make it a habit. Set a standard and consistent time each week to have family night. Have everyone commit, which means that everyone (even parents!) will have to say “no” to other social obligations and priorities. Spending meaningful time together usually does not not translate to watching television together, but rather includes activities such as hiking, playing board games, being involved in community service, taking short day trips and/or visiting relatives.
This may be one of the hardest activities to make families do together, but doing chores together can create a sense of fairness and responsibility throughout the entire family. Children, like parents, can and should become active and regular contributors to household chores. This means getting them involved in activities such as taking out the trash, setting the table and cleaning up after themselves.
Like family night, consistent habits are important: delegate the same activities throughout the week so that it becomes second nature to children. Depending on the age group, different family chores can be done together. For younger children, parents and kids can take laundry to the laundry basket together. Younger kids can also help dust and help parents clean up accidental spills. As children get older, they can help their parents prepare food, set and clear the table, take responsibility of a pet’s food and water bowl. They can help their parents fold laundry, put away dishes, answer the phone and help empty indoor trash cans. Teenagers can help grocery shop and clean different house appliances (such as the stove and defrosting the freezer). Remember to delegate responsibilities that are appropriate for the age group and most importantly, do the chores together.
Unstructured Time Together
Leaving time every week, or even every day, to have some unstructured time with your family is beneficial for everyone. In a society that encourages time management and schedules, leaving some unstructured time to explore positive traits like independence, creativity and critical thinking is important. During this time, do not rely on objects or electronics, but spend time exploring something new. This could be as simple as turning your background into undiscovered territory (digging for worms, planting a garden, catching fireflies in the evenings), or going out into your local community to explore local parks, walking trails, the farmer’s market or public library. You can be creative, without making it complicated or doing something over-the-top.
As families are frequently strained for time and on average, spend more hours each week watching television or working than talking to one another, getting into the habit of integrating valuable family time in daily activities like cooking or doing chores is not only healthy, but fun and simple. Enhancing quality family time is less about going out of one’s way to do something new, but rather re-thinking old habits in order to strengthen family bonds.