The beginning of the New Year is a good time to reflect upon your goals and desires for yourself as a parent and for your family as a group. In today’s 24/7 world we are often moving so fast and trying to accomplish so much at once that we forget to really be present with one another. Everywhere I look, educators, psychologists, sociologists, child development, and health experts are encouraging us to slow down, disconnect from technology, and connect with each other personally. There is a great deal of evidence to prove that children are happier, healthier, more successful in school, and behave better when they get uninterrupted, individual, and family time with their parents. I know it is hard to make it happen, but here are a few ideas for ways that you can build “Special Time” , “Down Time” and “Family Time” into your family life in the new year.

  1. Spend 20 minutes every night reading to or with your child. Try to read with each of your children individually as often as possible. Even if your child is reading independently, sit with him, listen to him read, read to him, and talk with him about what he is reading. Teachers all say that this is the most important thing parents can do to support success in school.
  2. Set aside time each week where each of your children gets to spend some time alone with each parent. We call this “Special Time” — not because what you do has to be really “special,” but because it is a time when your child will feel “special” because you are present with her and she feels the connection. It is best when this time can be predictable for your child. For example — Sunday afternoon is “Daddy and Me time” and Tuesday evening is “Mommy and Me time.”
  3. Make a commitment to setting aside a specific time each week to be together as a family. This can be a time for a “family meeting” when your children are school aged or older, but it should also always include something that everyone enjoys and looks forward to such as playing a game, watching a movie together, cooking, or spending time being active outside.
  4. Design a tradition before a meal or at bedtime when you express gratitude with each other. Acknowledging things that we are grateful for has been well established as an important step along the road to happiness for children and adults.
  5. Create time daily—or at least weekly—when you are home, without electronics of any kind, just hanging out together. You might be doing household chores or reading the paper while your children are playing outside in the yard or in the playroom. Not being entertained, but needing to entertain themselves. This lost art is called “Downtime.” Many children and adults today don’t know how to do it anymore! Remember the age-old adage “Boredom is the mother of invention?” Try it! Practice it! You may be surprised by the creative ways your spend that time!

If you want to read more about these ideas and others written by renowned authors, check out “Raising Happiness” by Christine Carter or “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel. If you want to talk about these and other ways to create a deeper connection in your family, come to Parents Place for a consultation or a workshop, parentsplace.jfcs.org or 650-688-3046.

Stephanie Barry Agnew is the Parent Education Coordinator at San Mateo Parents Place. She works with parents in groups and individually to help them through a wide variety of parenting issues, including discipline and school choices. She can be reached at 650-931-1841 or [email protected].

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