The impact of family bonding activities are enormous. Spending time together as a family, okay to be more clear enjoyable time, has so many benefits for both children and their families! These benefits include a stronger emotional bond between parents and/or caregivers and their children, improved communication, improved performance in school, and decreased behavioral problems, according to an article HERE from South University. Other benefits according to THIS article include include higher levels of self esteem, reduction of stress, development of conflict resolution skills, increased adaptability, and strengthened resilience.
I also am very interested in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they play a role in the lives of children that present in our offices. I don't know about you, but when it comes to ACEs I can feel pretty out of control and a bit helpless. Although therapy can support children and families, provide a healing environment, and attempt to buffer further ACEs, therapy cannot change the ACEs that have happened or inevitably are happening or will happen.
BUT did you know that research is showing that positive childhood experiences can mitigate the effects of ACEs? Research shows that higher numbers of positive experiences in childhood were associated with 72% lower odds of having depression or poor mental health as an adult.
Positive childhood experiences were defined as being able to "talk with their family about their feelings, felt that their families stood by them during difficult times, had at least two nonparent adults who took genuine interest in them, whether they felt safe and protected by an adult in their home, felt supported by friends and felt a sense of belonging in high school, and participated in their community" according to NPR. The experiences in the everyday - not things like winning the spelling bee, getting all A's, or making the game winning shot.
Okay - now that is something I can get behind! As therapists there is definitely work we can do to foster these positive experiences as well as increased bonding in relationships. I don't know about you, but this is something that nearly every client I work with could benefit from! I also know that when I introduce up family bonding time in session it usually brings up overwhelm with parents and caregivers. But when? But how? We are already doing so much!
I like to meet families where they are at and often brainstorm what free or low cost activities they could incorporate into their schedule. I also get serious in session to set a specific time and date that they are committing to engaging in the activity. This dramatically increases follow through vs saying something like "sometime in the next week make sure you do this activity."
I created a free download HERE that you can share with families to help get them unstuck and see what's possible with things they likely have around the house OR make things they are doing anyway a fun activity and a departure from the everyday. I share 12 of the most flexible family activities to take the overwhelm out of figuring out just what to DO together.
Below are some of my favorites for meal time - I mean the family has to eat am I right? Check out these activities below!
Family Meal Night
Family meal night is one of the most classic ways families can come together and bond. However, THIS family meal night is completely different!
Coming Together: Family Course Meal:
First create a list of courses you would like for your meal. This list can include items like appetizer, salad, entrée, side dish (can have multiple), drink, and dessert. Cut out each of these items and put them in a cup. Each member of the family takes turns drawing until each member has at least one course. Families can also decide to limit the amount of courses to the amount of family members so each member only has one. Then, it is up to each family member to research, plan, and make (all on their own) the recipe. You may have an age limit that the challenge is for 3 or 4 and up, have the little ones be in charge of picking the beverage, setting the table, or some other sort of age appropriate task.
For the older children you need to make sure that they can achieve all steps in the recipe safely. Maybe this means they need supervision sliding the dish in or out of the oven or some help with the knives – BUT have you seen Master Chef Junior? Most kids can do more than we give them credit for. This also means that your 6 year old’s “main course” might be sandwiches that she can make herself or your 5 year old’s side dish might be frozen French fries from the store he pops in the oven.
The thing to note as parents or guardians is to support your child in creating something independently (as possible) that they are proud of. Maybe the fries are a bit, umm, crispy. That is fine (as long as the kitchen isn't on fire) it is the process and the bonding that is the most important part!
You can choose to have a theme for your meal like picnic, Italian, finger foods, etc. OR have everyone pick anything that might be on the table. An addition to this is that each family member needs to give one compliment about each course.
Battle of the Recipes:
Families break off into two or more teams. Together as a family a recipe is chosen – it could be tacos, lasagna, curry, cake – any sort of recipe. Then, each team researches what they feel the best recipe will be, make a list of ingredients and get shopping.
Families may decide to have one team go one day/meal and the next team goes the other or to have both meals at the same time. Then, it’s time to cook, bake, and/or prepare. Each team works together to prepare their meal and then it’s time to sit down at the table for the tasting or just plain chowing down! After the meal each family member rates each meal (using the score cards in the download) on categories such as preparation, taste, temperature, etc. At the end scores are totaled up and a winner is announced!
Unique challenges to add could be staying under a certain dollar limit for a meal OR adding a time limit that the meal needs to be created. You could also require the use of a specific ingredient. Winners may get something (maybe a family Battle Of The Recipes trophy or medal – get some inspiration HERE) or just bragging rights until the next battle!
I love these two ideas for families bonding over food, also being mindful that food may be a stressor for families such as with members who struggle with disordered eating or where mealtime is a struggle for other reasons. It is always good to be mindful of issues like these to brainstorm what activities may or may not be a good fit for certain families.
However, the families that are appropriate for these activities have reported so much enjoyment and FUN had with one another. Like true highlight of their week! It is the fantastic pivot of making something that can at times be mundane and routine a bonding moment with lasting memories.
Download the worksheet bundle HERE!
Check out the free download HERE that you can pass to the families you are working with to get them thinking about and excited about family bonding time! It can take the pressure off of parents having to do the research and spend hours scouring Pinterest or google to find the right activity. Oh, and maybe you want to use some of these ideas for your family too! I know some of these are in the rotation at my house right now!!
Drop a comment below about a favorite bonding activity you recommend to families!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.