rom a young age, family affects our health and overall emotional well-being. Strong family ties help create our first feelings of security and trust. Having a built-in support system at home can help us manage stress as we develop our own coping strategies.
If you didn’t grow up in a close, supportive family, take heart. Anyone can practice skills that encourage closer relationships. Many develop family-like support systems with people who aren’t biologically related to them. Healthier emotional support starts whenever you’re ready to do a few tiny actions for the better.
Of course, life is not always a level playing field. Social and economic realities, even geography, influence unfettered fun and games. “However, even those children who are fortunate enough to have abundant available resources and who live in relative peace may not be receiving the full benefits of play,” according to research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Some families grapple with conflict, tension, or trauma. These struggles make it more critical to try to set the burden aside and enjoy creative ways to connect with each other. It’s something we all need, and a skill many of us have forgotten to practice.
What works to strengthen family bonds?
Put simply, creative play. Play isn’t just for children, but it is crucial to optimal child development. So crucial that it has been written into the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When parents are harried and the daily routine is focused on real-world obligations, it may not be a priority to think of creative ways to add play into the schedule.
Pediatrician Hansa Bhargava, writing for the American Academy of Pediatrics, notes that, “… more and more kids are incredibly stressed.” She points out that today’s kids have demands on all fronts: school, sports, even the arts. “For many children, the lazy, after school, neighborhood playtime is long gone – as are the long summers of being bored.”
Plan “unscheduled” time. An occasional day off from school and work can help. “Reset and recharge by staying home, by being with family, or by just simply taking a walk and looking at the trees and the spring flowers,” says Bhargava. Because we all need an occasional mental health break to recharge and stave off burnout.
Studies show that “boredom and long periods of unscheduled time can actually spur creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, as well as reset the emotional needle,” Bhargava says. “We all need this – and kids do, too.”
Play for play’s sake is the point. According to the American Academy of Pediatric study:
Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child-driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
But building family bonds can be about doing anything together. This list of activities from Verywell Family is full of helpful ideas. From creating a family mission statement to doing chores, the gift is the time you spend together. According to Verywell Family, sharing that quality time leads to a sense of belonging and security for everyone in the family.
More ideas to try:
- Eat meals together. Plan a night or two each week to gather around a simple meal. No phones or TV allowed, just share your day with each other. You might use “rose, thorn, bud” as a conversational prompt to share something positive and something challenging from your day, and something you’re looking forward to.
- Plan family meetings. Family meetings are a good time to check in about plans, air grievances, or celebrate the week’s small wins. It’s a good way to foster listening skills, empathy, and respect for one another.
- Volunteer as a family. Giving one’s time and attention can be a potent learning experience. Sharing the activity as a family can strengthen your relationships.
- Factor in some time-out time. Everybody needs unscheduled time. Encourage your kids to take recharge time for themselves. Don’t forget to do the same for yourself!
Setting time for family fun and activities signals that you value the family. It shows your appreciation for your children as individuals, as well.
Making family a priority is the best way to strengthen your family bonds, according to Verywell Family.