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Making Time for Family Time
Do you often long for the “good old days” when family life seemed less hectic and everything moved at a slower pace? Well, you’re not alone. Today, many parents are experiencing a change in family life from when they were children. They feel a tremendous pressure with so many things to do and not enough time to do them. Often, children have as busy a schedule as their parents! As a reaction to these changing times, there has been a noticeable shift in parenting roles. More and more moms are busy working inside and outside the home while trying to organize household responsibilities and the family schedule. Dads are as busy as ever, but they’re trying to be more helpful around the house and taking on a more supportive role with their children’s after school activities. And, children are spending time in many places besides their home, such as school, sports activities, music lessons, dance classes and other settings in the community. Family life may seem chaotic at times, so the trick is to find a way to put a little order in the confusion.

Share what you love …your special hobby or talent …with your child. Individual interests bring families closer. Because the rewards of a strong family are enormous and last a lifetime, it is so important to make time for family time. An easy and enjoyable way to do that is to play together as a family, such as family games, family sports or even watching a movie.

Playing together as a family provides opportunities for parents and children to do something enjoyable and fun with each other. It helps build and strengthen family bonds and establishes memories in the making. One of the benefits for young children is knowing that their family is interested in spending time with them. What a confidence booster! Another benefit of families spending time together is that positive, supportive relationships, important during the earliest years of life, appear essential not only for cognitive development but also for healthy emotional development and social attachment.

Just about any time can be family playtime! And for young children especially, routine and familiar activities are a great place to start. While conducting your everyday activities, converse with your child, point out interesting things and make games out of shopping or even folding the laundry. Cooking together is always an opportunity for conversation, creativity and doing something as a family. The simplest things can become relationship builders. It’s the attitude with which you approach the activity that will make it feel like fun or drudgery. So even if you’re busy and short on time, you can make the best of it.

Young children begin imaginative play by imitating what they’ve seen and experienced. Their play themes often revolve around family happenings and events. So take them on outings and you’ll observe their play themes expand. Read books and watch movies together and you’ll notice their vocabularies and imaginations develop. One of the benefits of family time is the development of social and language skills. Parents can initiate or extend family playtimes by encouraging conversations and discussions about shared experiences. Offering toys that are based on familiar themes provide wonderful opportunities for family interactions and involvement. Playing together is one of the best ways to spend quality time as a family. Shared playtime is an opportunity for mutual enjoyment and discovery. It’s fun for all involved!

Eating out in restaurants is one of the ways some busy families spend time together. Sometimes it can be a challenge with young children, who often become anxious while waiting for the food. So, be prepared with lots of distractions, such as books, crayons and paper, small toys and quiet games to keep them occupied. Keep such an “activity bag” handy, so that it is available whenever you need it.

Following are some tips for getting the most out of families spending time playing together:
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to play and have fun with your child – it’s a golden opportunity you won’t want to miss.
  • Sometimes, just sit back and observe your child at play – observation provides hints to the next stage of development.
  • Follow your child’s cues—be creative and resourceful when playing with your child.
  • Choose toys that are fun for your child and fun for you, too!
  • Allow enough time for family play. Children develop best in an environment, which allows them time to explore, discover and play.
  • Most of all cherish this time together and really enjoy yourselves.
  • One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is your time.
  • Remember, the benefits of family time last a lifetime. A strong family life provides the foundation for your child’s self-esteem, happiness, achievements and outlook for the future.
Tips for making family time an optimum time for fostering key foundational aspects of development that have lifelong implications:
  • Appreciate childhood as a unique and valuable stage of the human life cycle [and value the quality of children's lives in the present, not just as preparation for the future];
  • Appreciate and support the close ties between you, your child and family members;
  • Help your family achieve its full potential with close relationships that are based on trust, respect, and positive regard.
Kathleen Alfano Ph.D. Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price®