I have a confession to make. My family, as of late, does not have much fun together. Yes, there are the occasional weekend trips or parties with friends where we have fun. But, on a day-to-day basis, there isn’t a whole lot of fun going on around here. There’s homework. Laundry. Cleaning up the kitchen. Taking out the trash. Lots of chores, some of which we do together. When I think about it, most of my interactions with my kids involve me reminding (AKA nagging) them about something that they need to do. We also spend an inordinate amount of time practicing for, watching, or playing various sports. Sometimes those events are fun, but it’s not family fun.
We have dinner together most evenings, and we chat about the day and share our highs and lows. We read together before bedtime. But, I don’t think dinner and reading qualify as “fun,” at least in my kids’ eyes. In the limited free time we all have left, we mostly spend our time doing things that are fun for us individually, many of which involve us being on our own, separate screens. Currently, our individual interests range from Minecraft and Nerf guns to football to pinning inspirational quotes on Pinterest to Instagramming to training for triathlons. We don’t have a lot of overlap in what we consider “fun.” And much of what we do for fun is solitary and doesn’t include the rest of the family.
So, when reading the Whole Brain Child and learning about how important it is to build fun into our family life in order to help our kids’ brains develop integration of self and others, I was convicted. We need to start having more fun as a family!
Why do we need to up our family’s fun factor? Because it is within our families that our children develop their relationship skills and learn to integrate themselves with others. Going from “me to we” is how authors Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson describe it.
Children need to learn to move away from thinking selfishly about their own needs and wants (normal for young children) to thinking about others and empathizing. And they learn this skill, first and foremost, from their interactions within their family. They don’t learn it from us lecturing about how important it is to think about others. They learn it from experiencing being in relationship and interacting with those who are closest to them. They learn from us when we participate in an activity they enjoy and empathize with their enjoyment of what they’re doing.
There have been times in the past year when a supposedly “fun” family event has gone awry. Specifically, I remember the cards being thrown and someone stomping away from a game of Spot It. But I think that even those negative parts of fun family togetherness are learning experiences. Our kids learn from us showing empathy when they lose a card game. They learn from working through a conflict over an Apples to Apples game. They learn from even the negative interactions that often occur when we are having fun together, like when someone in the family gets their feelings hurt and we talk about why. Our kids don’t get more integration from the day-to-day nagging about getting chores done. They get that integration through the fun rituals and activities that make us feel connected as a family and give them an opportunity to think about others.
The crazy thing is that our life at camp is built around fun. We have a multitude of fun campfire games, riddles, songs and stories at our proverbial finger-tips, and everyone in our family knows them. We conduct trainings for our counselors about making mundane things like putting on sunscreen fun. Yet we rarely practice that same fun together at home.
When my older kids were younger (in the late 1990s and early 2000s), I think we had a lot more fun together as a family. Those years were before we all became so incredibly distracted by our ubiquitous devices. We played more games together, took walks to the park, and went to the community pool. We need to get back to the family fun again. We can’t wait for our upcoming vacation, visit to a theme park, or summer to take the place of day-to-day fun right here at home.
So, today begins my quest to up our family fun factor. Here are the first steps I’ve come up with towards accomplishing this goal:
(1) Have a conversation at dinner and brainstorm what everyone thinks would be fun activities to do as a family. We’ll focus on activities that don’t take very long (30 minutes or less) and can be done at home.
(2) Over Thanksgiving break, when everyone will be home (including college-age kids), I’ll have each family member come up with one fun activity that we can do as a family. Everyone gets to plan and organize one event for over the week, and we all participate.
I would really love to hear the fun things you do as a family and hear your ideas for increasing family fun. Please share your ideas here so we can all benefit!
And I’ll let you know what we come up with, too. Even the things that don’t work.
Book Review of the Whole Brain Child, Greater Good Science Center
50 Family Fun Night Ideas, She Knows Parenting
Boredom Busters: 110 Fun At-Home Activities for Families & Kids, Family e-Guide
11 Ideas for Fun Family Activities, Real Simple