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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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The Importance of Family Fun

In our society, we struggle to keep the pace.  We rush home from work to prepare dinner for the family.  After dinner, we hurriedly pack the kids in the car to get them to their game, dance class, music lesson, or other event on time.  As soon as that’s done, it’s time to go home, get homework done and get to bed by bedtime.  It’s rush, rush, rush.  What are we missing here?  How big of a deal is it that we aren’t making time for family fun?  Read on for information on this crucial topic for families of the 21st century.

As parents, it’s important that we prepare our kids to be happy, healthy, productive members of adult society.  To do that, we encourage them to learn all that they can in school and participate in extra-curricular activities to explore their interests and skills and become well-rounded individuals.  We also take every opportunity possible to teach them and show them about happy, healthy, productive adulthood.  We teach them that they should speak the truth, they should not hit, and they should exhibit empathy; we model these behaviors (speaking the truth, not hitting, exhibiting empathy) so that our kids can learn from our example.  But is constant instruction the ideal?  Is there value in taking a break from instruction?  Could fun breaks be instructive as well?  No, yes, and yes, respectively.

Constant instruction is not the ideal.  All work and no play (so to speak) teaches our kids that we are more interested in teaching them than valuing them as individuals, inclusive of their thoughts, feelings, wants, needs, and interests.  Constant instruction is, in essence, a constant one-way flow of information from parent to child . . . but our kids need opportunities to communicate to us about who they are as well.  Family fun provides a wonderful opportunity for this communication to occur and for us, in turn, to respond by valuing what our kids are communicating to us.  For example, if we hear our kids saying that they like spending time in the outdoors, a family nature hike can be a great way for us to say, “I hear you telling me who you are.  I value who you are.  We do this today in honor of you, your interests, your perspectives.”

The value of taking a break from instructions is multifold.  It’s not just about our kids being able to communicate their identities to us and having us value that; it’s also about teaching kids (but in a less apparently instructive approach) about the following:

  • Finding joy in the moment and learning flexibility.  For example, on a rainy day, when we are busy with housekeeping and maintenance, and our kids are busy with homework, we can initiate an impromptu family break from productivity to dance in the rain and jump in mud puddles.
  • Taking themselves less seriously, being resilient.  For example, if one of the kids takes state in some athletic event or does not achieve his/her academic goal, we can praise the success or coach and counsel on the failure, but then follow up with family fun, something that helps each of the kids appreciate their strengths with humility and work to improve their weaknesses without depreciating their self-worth.  Such family fun may include participating in a theatre group (with the star athlete performing in the role of an underperformer and the academically challenged child performing in the role of a hero), family volunteerism at a local animal shelter (where the kids’ love of animals is more important than their athletic or academic proficiency), or visiting a historical museum (at which time we can emphasize the perspective that comes from history . . . what is important in the “long run”, and how certain people or species overcame obstacles).
  • Easing tensions.  When feeling pressured or over-worked, bogged down by homework and other responsibilities, a bit of family fun can be just what is needed to help kids relax.  When we see that our kids are reaching their stress tolerance, it may be time to pile all the kids in the car and head to the local ice cream shop, pizza parlor, or amusement park.
  • A sense of belonging, continuity, and dependability.  For example, if every Sunday is family day, with family fun planned each Sunday afternoon, kids learn that they “belong” in the family unit (i.e., “Sundays are our family days.”), there is continuity (every Sunday is family day), and they can depend on us ensuring that every Sunday will be family day.

Family fun, then, has many benefits.  The most important of these are the two-way communication of identity (from our kids) and love and acceptance (from us) and the resultant strengthening of the family unit.  Years from now, when our kids aren’t kids any more, they will look back on the family fun and see that these were lessons too, but in a less obviously instructive sort of way; they will see that they learned about life and love during family fun . . . and these will be the source of happy memories.

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