We all want to have happy family experiences, have fun together and build strong loving bonds. Raising children should be an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, a lot of parents spend their days breaking up sibling fights, sending kids to time-outs, and constantly battling about family rules.
How do we ensure that we still have the time (and energy!) to create loving moments together? Especially amidst the grind of daily household duties, meeting our children’s basic needs, and trying to raise responsible and respectful children…
Strong, happy families don’t just happen on their own; they take work, commitment, and time. The most integrated, lovingly connected families practice daily strategies that build important kinship bonds. Families have a fundamental need to genuinely understand each other and enjoy happy moments together.
Family resilience research suggests that working together as a family unit to achieve shared goals is beneficial for kids and adults alike. It helps all family members feel valued for making a contribution and taking on responsibilities. Sharing time and resources also reinforces the important value of taking good care of oneself and others.
No parent has the right answers all of the time, but these simple guidelines can help to make the time you spend with your family richer. These ideas to strengthen your family’s sense of connectedness aren’t secrets – in fact, they’re common sense. But actively dedicating time and energy to sharing these home-based activities, and combining them into an ongoing strategy focused on family togetherness? That’s our not-so-secret formula for successful family interactions.
Activity 1: Do household chores together
Most parents of young children have an enormous amount of work and household responsibilities to be completed on a daily basis. If you are spending a great deal of time rushing from one mundane task to another, and feel like you never have enough time to relax or spend meaningful moments with your family, it’s time to flip the script.
First step: Make space in your schedule
Commit to creating time to enjoy yourself and your family. Make it a priority. When you’re with your children at home, try relaxing your approach to spending time with them. Most importantly, that includes involving the kids in managing household affairs, rather than working around them.
Second step: Everybody helps
Delegate wherever possible, and involve your family in completing household chores. Positive reinforcement is helpful here, as it can help shape new group behaviours. Try allocating everyone in the family a chore to be completed simultaneously – someone wipes the benches, someone else sweeps the floor, and another family member takes out the recycling. After the tasks are complete (you can even set a timer, if competitive housework Olympics sounds appealing), reward the family with a shared activity that everyone will enjoy, like a movie night.
Third step: Make it fun!
Playfulness does not have to be limited to play, particularly with young children. Kids often find doing household tasks fun since they haven’t yet become aware of the idea that housework is mundane. Doing the dishes, vacuuming, and folding laundry can be a genuinely enjoyable activity for them.
You can emulate your kids’ enthusiasm for chores by lessening your focus on how long a task may take or how efficiently it has to be done. Instead, see this as an invaluable opportunity for family togetherness time. It’s a good idea to allow extra time for each task wherever possible. For instance, you may encourage your child to draw on the window before cleaning it, or play with the bubbles whilst washing the dishes. Showing kids that sharing responsibility can be fun sets them up for a lifetime of creative productivity and social competence – it may also revolutionise your own attitude to chores!
Fourth step: Persevere
Chances are high that your children will submit a variety of concerns to the Parental Complaint Department about the work they have to do, but doing chores together can be incredibly beneficial for families. Research shows that working and talking together while cleaning the house or washing the car creates a sense of achievement and connection. It also ensures that everyone is involved in keeping the family functioning at optimal levels on a daily basis. Revisit the ‘reward’ component of Step Two if the kids aren’t convinced by the promise of family togetherness at first. Numerous studies show that over time, kids report increased happiness and a sense of fulfillment when they feel they have a meaningful role within their family.
Activity 2: Focus on small, cherished moments rather than eventful outings
Connecting with your family members is about quality time: play peek-a-boo with your baby and make silly faces that send her into fits of giggles; help your toddler to make shapes in his Play-Doh; or sit down with your teenager and watch a few funny YouTube compilation videos together. Just be sure to find activities that you’ll both enjoy; you’ll be amazed at how rewarding and beneficial even just a few minutes together can feel.
Many parents are under the impression that in order to have maximum fun and quality time together, they need to go on outings to places like the zoo, or the pool, or some other event. But often, a child’s happiest memories are of doing simple things – like going to buy the groceries and baking a cake together, playing around with a football in the backyard, or reading a story at bedtime.
Activity 3: Shared family meals? Strong happy family
There is an incredibly strong evidence base for the positive impact that shared family meals have upon family connectedness and resilience. Studies show that sharing meals with your family can have long-term psychological, emotional, physical and academic benefits.
Regular family mealtimes have been linked to lower rates of obesity, depression, stress, and anxiety. Other benefits include reductions in teen substance use and eating disorders, as well as stronger self-esteem, academic performance and child-parent connectedness. Preparing meals together is a great way to bond with your family – even little kids can help chop and stir things; older children might enjoy choosing recipes to try out.
Mealtime is also an invaluable opportunity to talk to other family members – 20 years of research shows that regular dinner conversations foster more open communication between parents and kids, which can have lifelong benefits for all family members in terms of intimacy, trust and a sense of connectedness to the family unit.
Activity 4: Take the time to really listen
Most of the time, children only need a few minutes of your undivided attention, but many parents are often too caught up in other matters to really listen to what their kids have to say.
When your child comes to you excited to talk about the drawing they made at preschool or the bug that they found in the yard, that you really take the time to listen and show interest by asking further questions. It can be easy to let your mind wander when your child is talking about a stream of little things, but kids know whether their parents are really listening or not.
Many parents report that when asking about their child’s school day, they only receive a one-word answer in response. “Good”, “Fine”, and “Okay” are the frustratingly brief answers that kids commonly deploy. Often children try to avoid talking about what’s happening away from the family home. It’s crucial to take the time to genuinely listen to your child when they come to you with something of interest to share. Encouraging conversation on kids’ terms creates space for them to share their about lives, thoughts and feelings with you. This sense of trust and openness in childhood also sets a precedent for their adult relationships. Of course, good communication is also essential in supporting your teenager to navigate adolescence successfully.
Activity 5: Remember your sense of humour!
Having a sense of humour when things don’t turn out as planned can relieve tension and stress, and help a family to relax and avoid conflict by not taking themselves too seriously. Of course, it’s not always easy to relax when you’re stuck in traffic and the kids are fighting in the back of the car; or you’re in a hurry to find a birthday present en route to the birthday party you’ve only just remembered your child had been invited to.
Research suggests that a collective ‘family humour style’ can deepen a sense of connection, and belonging within the family unit. It may not feel too funny in the moment, running late for a birthday party with grumpy kids in tow! Yet the ability to laugh off stressful moments – especially by sharing a family joke – is a superbly effective coping strategy.
Finding a manageable work-life balance whilst raising children can be tricky. Committing to share household responsibilities can create opportunities for family togetherness and genuine daily moments of connection. Taking the time to enjoy each moment with your family creates happier memories and stronger bonds – a simple truth, with lasting benefits.
Strong and happy family research resources:
Covey, S. R. (2014). The 7 habits of highly effective families. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
Everts, E. (2003). Identifying a particular family humor style: A sociolinguistic discourse analysis. Humor, 16(4), 369-412.
Fishel, A. K. (2016). Harnessing the power of family dinners to create change in family therapy. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 37(4), 514-527.
Nelson, S. K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2015). Juggling family and career: Parents’ pathways to a balanced and happy life. Flourishing in Life, Work, and Careers: Individual Wellbeing and Career Experiences, 100.
Walsh, F. (2015). Strengthening family resilience. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.
Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.