Building better family connections

Try these fun and easy ways to connect with your kids.

Have you ever asked your child, “What did you do today?” and get this answer, “Nothing.” Or “How was school today?” and get “Okay.” As a parent we want to know about how our children are doing, what they are doing, and we want them to be able to talk to us about anything – anytime. Good communication is essential to building close relationships with your children.

Sometimes keeping that channel of communication open can be difficult. With work, school, activities and everyday life chores, it seems like there is less and less time to just talk. Even worse, when you do schedule time to talk it can come off as scripted and intimidating. So, how do you find time for good communication without seeming like you are playing Twenty Questions?

The good news is that good communication and relationship building is possible without seeming like another family chore. It can be as simple as planning out some enjoyable family activities that can spark discussions about hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, fears and worries. When we are relaxed and having fun together, it is easier for everyone to let their guard down and feel safe to express their thoughts and feelings.

Try one or all of these. Decide which ones your family really likes or really doesn’t like. Come up with your own variations and be creative. Each of the suggested activities can be done with some brief planning, completed within an hour or two at the most, and are great on a tight budget. You can adapt the activities to include children of all ages. Most importantly, include questions and discussions on each other’s thoughts, feelings and needs, and to share ideas.

Chef-de-Jour(Chef of the Day):

Have each member of the family pick a theme for one night of the week. Is there some county you always wanted to visit, some recipe you saw on a TV show, or some cultural cuisine you would like to try? Then plan out the meal around that theme. Each member helps prepare part of the meal. Explore cookbooks you have gathering dust, go to the library, or search online. You can go International or All-American. Ask the following questions:

  • Why was this theme interesting to you?
  • How did it feel to try something new?
  • What was your favorite part of the meal?
  • What would you change?

Family Book Club

When you read a book together you are not only sharing your thoughts and feelings, but also instilling a love of reading. Ask the local librarian for suggestions on a chapter book appropriate for your entire family. Some classics include The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, or The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes a week to read (depending on the age of the children), one chapter of the book aloud together. After each chapter, ask the following questions:

What is happening?

  • What do you think is going to happen next?
  • How do you think the characters are feeling?
  •  If you could write the ending now, what would that look like?
  • If you wrote a book, what would it be about?

Treasure Map

Purchase some inexpensive journals (you can usually get some colored ones at your local dollar store). Each family member gets their own personal Treasure Map. Talk about things to put in your Treasure Map. Each family member can decide what is in their own Treasure Map. Ask the following questions:

  • What do you want?
  • What do you dream about?
  • What do you want to be?
  • What would you like the world to be like?
  • Where would you like to travel?
  • Who would you like to meet?
  • What I like most about me right now is…
  • If I could change one thing about me or my life it would be…

Get out some magazines, glue, colorful markers, crayons or pencils. Sit around the table, and start creating. Draw pictures, cut out images from magazines, make lists, write poems, silly sayings, or inspirational quotes. This can be an ongoing activity that each person can continue on their own, or as a family.

Spending time together doing enjoyable activities helps to build strong relationships with our children and our families and leads to opportunities to talk to each other. Build in some fun, mix in some conversation and you are off to a good start. For more information, visit the Search Institute’s Parent Further resources.

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