About fifteen years ago, when my then-husband and I made the decision to adopt a sibling group of five young girls (ages 4-11 years) in addition to our four biological children (ages 18 months- 11 years), I made the commitment to spend one on one time with each of my children. I did not want them to feel like they were only a group and I did not want them to feel that our whole relationship consisted of me telling them what to do and what not to do. Thus began “30 minutes.” That was the amount of one-on-one time I promised each of my kids on their “day.” These two things became an institution over the ensuing years (my kids are now ages 16-26). On your “day” you got to pick your seat in our 15-seater van, sit where you wanted to at the dinner table, have first choice when anything came up, and spend “30 minutes” of one on one time with Mom. Some of the many things we did for “30 minutes” included: lay outside and look at the stars, take a walk, create a movie (back in the days when we had to use a big bulky VHS movie camera), go out to eat, and make a special food to eat together. Rarely was the time only 30 minutes. The time that I spent with each of my kids was a wonderful gift for me and I treasure each and every memory.
One of the things I emphasize when talking to parents is this need to spend one on one time with their children. Even though most parents aren’t dealing with a group of nine kids, one on one time – talking and interacting face to face- is still incredibly important . At a recent presentation a dad asked, “If you don’t count watching TV or playing video games, what do you suggest we do together?” This dad reflected an all-too prevalent phenomenon in our society. As Dr. Bruce Perry puts it, we have developed technology at a pace that has outstripped our ability to adapt and cope with it in a way that best meets the true needs of humans. The human race was designed (or has evolved, if you prefer) to interact, face to face with other humans. From the advent of television, to the invention of VCRs and early video games to today’s ever-present social media we have been in previously uncharted territory that has resulted in less and less time spent face to face. Humans do not thrive in the absence of rich social relationships.
Research indicates that when a high number of rich social interactions and social-emotional support are present in a child’s life, trauma and other adverse events have a far lesser impact on the child’s overall development and life outcomes. Other research has pointed to the value and efficacy of strong relationships for adolescents in intervention for self injury. One of many research articles on the topic of the importance of social relationships and its impact on every aspect of health is available here. Further, I would encourage you to take an hour of your time to watch this presentation by Dr. Perry.
With this in mind, I want to use this article to encourage you to 1) Spend more face time with your children and loved ones (maybe it could be your New Year’s resolution); 2) Make hard decisions about limiting your own screen time and that of your children; and… 3) If you are in a position where you can share this need with others, please spread this information- it is vitally important to our future as a society. More and more children are growing up on a starvation diet in terms of relationships and therefore social-emotional development – and this has very scary implications in terms of developing empathy and other very important pro-social skills.
Meanwhile…here are some ideas of things to do with your friends, loved ones, and/or children to interact and really get to know each other better. Although the list was created by Megan Gladwell with younger kids in mind, there is not one thing on here you couldn’t enjoy with your adolescent, spouse, or adult friend!
1. Write a silly story
Sit down together with some paper and pencil. Ask your child to choose a specific location , a main character, a situation or conflict, and let the story unfold. Draw and color two or three pictures to illustrate your tale.
2. Have a story and craft hour
Invite a small group of your kid’s friends or neighbors to your home and read a story to the kids. Then create a craft that coordinates with the story’s theme. Have your child help plan and teach the craft and serve treats that go with the theme, too.
3. Break out a board game
Go back to the basics. Play checkers, Uno or Monopoly.
4. Build a Fort in your house or in your backyard!
Use cardboard boxes, blankets, bricks, or whatever materials you have to construct a cool fort.
5. Fill a donation box
Encourage your child to gather his gently-used, outgrown clothes and toys and deliver them to a needy friend or shelter.
6. Zoom around
Grab your helmets and ride bikes, scooters or skateboards together at a park.
7. Walk a dog
If you don’t have one, this idea is even more of a novelty. Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog for an hour.
8. Make homemade ice cream or popsicles OR bake a cake.
Invest in an ice cream maker and create yummy concoctions. Or, buy the cheap, plastic Popsicle molds and fill them with juice or soda and fruit pieces. Buy a box cake and look up a fun frosting recipe. Decorate your cake with cool colors!
9. Visit a pet store
For non-pet families, it’s always a treat to see the reptiles, birds, hamsters, kittens and puppies at your local pet store. Stress that you’re just window shopping.
10. Read a book together– choose an old favorite of yours or one your child is interested in.
Find a nice, long book that will stretch through a month or so, and read a chapter to your kids each day. Charlotte’s Web, Matilda and The Secret of Nimh are fun reads. Great book series include: The Chronicles of Narnia, Wrinkle in Time, and of course… Harry Potter!
–This list is taken from a longer list created by Megan Gladwell.–
I hope this has encouraged you to spend more face to face time with your loved ones and to spread the word to others as well! Now… I better get off this screen!