Articles for Parents

Everything listed under: family time

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    8 Ways to Manage Family Time

    The beginning of the school year, for some, actually feels more like a new year. Families are getting acquainted with new schools, new teachers and new schedules, not to mention a buffet line of new opportunities for extracurricular activities. If parents aren’t careful, they will have kids involved in three different activities, going in opposite directions. As a result, what little family time there was is now non-existent.

    How many times have you found yourself grabbing the kids from school, running by a fast-food place for dinner and heading out to practice with one child trying to finish homework in the car and the other throwing on their practice clothes? Many parents have resigned themselves to believing this is life as we know it and the goal is to survive.

    Before your family life becomes a runaway train, consider what is best for your family when it comes to afterschool activities and the amount of time you spend together. Many loud voices will tell you all the things your child needs to participate in for future success. Certainly, extracurricular activities can make your child’s life richer, but they can also create additional stress and anxiety for the entire family.

    When you rarely sit down for a meal together or have the opportunity to connect, relationships can suffer. Plus, trying to keep up can be exhausting. So, how much is too much?

    Here are some suggestions from kidshealth.org to help you manage activities and family connectedness:

    • Set ground rules ahead of time. Plan on kids playing one sport per season or limit activities to two afternoons or evenings during the school week.
    • Know how much time things require. Does your child realize soccer practice is twice a week or more, right after school? Then there's the weekly game. Will homework suffer?
    • Set priorities. School comes first. If kids have a hard time keeping up academically, they may need to drop an activity.
    • Know when to say no. If your child is already active but really wants to take on another activity, discuss what needs to be dropped to make room for something new.
    • Stay organized with a calendar. Display it on the refrigerator so everybody can stay up-to-date. And if you find an empty space on the calendar, leave it alone! Everyone needs a chance to just do nothing.
    • Even if kids sign up for the season, let them miss one or two sessions. Sometimes hanging out on a beautiful day is more important than going to one more activity, even if you've already paid for it.
    • Try to balance activities for all of your kids — and yourself. It hardly seems fair to expend time and energy carting one kid to activities, leaving little time for another. Take time for yourself and spend time together as a family.
    • Create family moments. Plan a few dinners when everyone can be home at the same time.

    Family time is a precious commodity, and your children will grow up in the blink of an eye. Plan now to set your family priorities, avoid unnecessary activities and be intentional about spending time together as a family. 

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    Spring Break Staycation

    Almost everyone looks forward to spring break! For those who have a trip planned, the impatience and excitement are probably palpable. But, if you're not going out of town, you might be anxious about the idea of planning fun activities for your “staycation.”

    In this day and age, frugal, fun and free entertainment for your children for an entire week is not always easy to find. You probably already know your way around the area, so you won’t be stressed about spending a lot of money. And, there really are a lot of things for a family to do that cost next to nothing.

    For starters, pull the family together and brainstorm ideas for your break. If your children are old enough, let them figure out all of the things they can do within your budget. This could be a great life lesson (you don’t have to tell them that) about getting to do a lot of things that cost a little money or one big thing that blows the entire wad.

    If they think they've already done everything there is to do nearby, you might suggest a few tried and true fun things to do such as:

    • A photo scavenger hunt. Come up with a list of things they have to find or do, and take pictures to document their find. Since there are no more phone booths to stuff into, you'll have to get creative about what you ask them to do. Pinterest can help you with that.

    • Make kites. You can find everything you need at a craft store.

    • Build a fort in your family room. This is great for a rainy day. Grab blankets and sheets and throw them over furniture, card tables, chairs, etc., to build your fort. Have a picnic inside the fort when you finish.

    • Make playdough or goo. It’s easy to make and everybody loves the stuff! (At least the kids do...)

    • Go camping in the backyard. If you don’t own a tent, borrow one and have a camp out in the backyard complete with S’mores.

    • Pack a picnic and head out for the day. There are plenty of great parks in the area. Pack your quilt, Frisbee, Whiffle ball and bat, and enjoy a relaxing day at the park.

    • Build an obstacle course in the backyard or through the house. Let the kids build it and time you as you go through it.

    • Volunteer somewhere as a family. Find someone in your community who could use some assistance with their yard or planting a garden.

    • Just hang out. There’s nothing wrong with hanging out at the house for spring break. You aren’t a bad parent if every minute of the week isn’t scheduled. It’s actually good for children to have unscheduled time where they have to figure out how to entertain themselves.

    Keep a journal together and take pictures throughout your week. Then, put it all together in a picture collage or scrapbook. It will help you remember the memories you create and it makes for great stories around the dinner table.

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    Guarding Family Time

    Typical day in the life of a family: The alarm clock goes off. Parents wake up children. Chaos ensues as family members fight for the bathroom, get ready and eat breakfast to be out the door on time. You race to the car, prepare for battle with traffic, drop the kids off at school and head to work feeling like you have already lived an entire day.

    After working all day, whether on a job or in school, it's still not time to crash. Soccer, piano, dance, and a parent meeting are all on the agenda. Then it’s time to head home, eat dinner, do homework, take showers and crawl into bed. And you know that tomorrow's routine will be pretty much the same.

    Is this the story of your life? Do you ever wish you could stop the merry go round and get off – just for a short period of time? The truth is you can.

    Sandy Calhoun realized her life was spinning out of control, and she decided to do something about it.

    “This was even before we had children,” Calhoun said. “I realized my life was a train wreck. I was working crazy hours and the life was being sucked right out of me. At that point, I made the decision to get off the fast track. I quit my job that required extensive travel. I stopped worrying about the house being clean all the time and I didn’t worry about the laundry.”

    Now that children are in the mix, Calhoun still has to be careful not to get back on the entrance ramp to the fast track.

    “With two children involved in different activities, life can get crazy if we aren’t intentional about saying no to certain things,” Calhoun said. “It is easy to end up like ships passing in the night. We have said it is a priority to spend time together as a family and we are committed to making that happen. 

    “We only get one shot at being with our girls. I am continually reminding myself not to sweat the small stuff. The girls don’t care if the house is perfect, they just want to spend time with us.”

    As a family, do you need to take a time-out just to enjoy each other’s company? Turn off the iPhone, tablet and television and do something fun. If it has been a long time since you just hung out together, you might start with these things:

    • Make a meal together and eat as a family.

    • Go play at Goony Golf.

    • Take a picnic and games to play at the park.

    • Hike outdoors.

    • Ride bikes together.

    • Make a fire in the fire pit, make s’mores and eat them.

    Studies show that family connectedness is essential to health and to human flourishing, and that strong families build strong communities. Over-committed families in too much of a hurry and parenting from a distance contribute to feelings of disconnectedness. In contrast, families who prioritize time together build strong bonds.

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    Leadership in the Home

    Parents are a child’s first teacher. From infancy onward, children learn how to navigate life’s journey from watching their parents. The parent’s job is to lead and to cast a vision for a sense of the family’s greater purpose.

    “I remember a number of years ago, having a conversation with a young man. He said to me, ‘When I have kids, I’m going to be their best friend.’ I thought to myself, ‘I hope that works out for you,’” says leadership expert, Dr. Mark Mendenhall. “It has been said that where there is no vision people perish. It isn’t so much about being your child’s best friend as it is about leading them to develop and become better human beings.”

    But leading is difficult when people, regardless of age, don’t have a larger sense of moving toward a purpose.

    “Having a vision for your family is important,” Mendenhall says. “It is the parent’s role to decide who we are as a family. At home, kids can go to school and parents can go to work. If there is no big, hairy, audacious goal that everybody knows they are aiming for, people tend to just go through the motions. Everybody needs to be able to answer the question: What are we as a family all in on?”

    Years ago, Mendenhall purchased a new SUV. He told his children to be careful getting in and out of the cars in the garage so they did not damage the SUV. One morning he was in the family van, preparing to take his daughter to school. She came bouncing out the door and he thought to himself, “She isn’t going to remember to be careful.” She opened the passenger door, dinged the SUV and got in the van.

    “I was furious and lit into her,” Mendenhall says. “In a heartbeat I watched her face go from bubbly and happy to sad and sniffling. I don’t think we said a word the entire way to school. On the way home I thought, ‘What just happened?’ I was thinking the piece of metal was more important to me than the best way to discipline or coach my daughter.

    “It reminded me of Martin Buber’s concept of ‘I-Thou’ and ‘I-It.’ At any moment in time, as a leader or a parent, I can engage my child from the ‘I-Thou’ perspective - recognizing them as a human being with feelings, thoughts, weaknesses, strengths and ideas. Or, I can look at my child as an ‘It’ like a toaster – a thing, an object, something I want something from.”

    Mendenhall later apologized for the way he treated his daughter, which is another characteristic of a strong leader. When you make a mistake in judgment, a sincere apology is powerful. Children know you aren’t perfect, and an apology can make the parent-child relationship stronger.

    Studies indicate that setting aside 30 minutes to an hour each week for a family meeting can be beneficial. This is sacred time with no technology where the family does a fun activity together or confirms the weekly schedule.

    “Family meetings were of great benefit to our family,” Mendenhall says. “It was hard, especially as the kids got older, because everybody wanted more of their time. Just being together, even if it doesn’t go well every week, is huge for keeping the family connected.”

    Mendenhall also believes using participative leadership is especially helpful for parents.

    “When our kids were younger, we realized they were watching too much television,” Mendenhall says. “We brought them all together and said, ‘There is way too much television watching going on. We want to try and solve this problem as a family and aren’t saying no television. But, we just need to figure out how to manage this better.’

    “Our daughter was drawing while we were talking. At some point, she piped up and said, ‘We could make a sign that says ‘No More TV’ and put it over the television when it’s time for the television to go off.’”

    “After some discussion, everybody agreed that could work. So, she made a big poster to hang from the television. On the back of it, one of our sons (who is now an attorney) drew up a contract us all to sign.”

    The ultimate goal of parenting is to launch adults into the world with a skill set that will help them both personally and professionally. It all starts with parents leading out in the home.

    For more parenting tips get our E-book "Why Being a Dad is a BIG Deal" Download Here

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    Summertime Family Adventures

    The summer months offer a unique opportunity for families to escape the rat race, enjoy each other’s company and make great memories together.

    Instead of business as usual and letting others determine your summer schedule, consider making your own agenda - one that's full of adventure and fun. This might sound like a pipe dream, but many families know it doesn’t have to be just wishful thinking.

    Your first step to summer fun is to consider all of your options. It's easy to take for granted what is right outside your door when you have lived in the area for a while, but the Tennessee Valley has some real gems that are perfect for family adventures. Here are some ideas to get your list going:

    • If you want an easy drive, check out the Mayfield Dairy or Sweetwater Valley Farm.

    • If your family enjoys the outdoors, your choices are endless. The Tennessee Valley has some of the most beautiful recreation areas around. You could spend the summer exploring parks in the region and probably would not be able to see them all. From Bald River Falls, Cloudland Canyon and Big South Fork to Fall Creek Falls, Chester Frost Park, Lula Lake Land Trust, Chickamauga Battlefield, Pigeon Mountain and the Smokies, whether you love the challenge of a rigorous hike or an easy walk, primitive camping or glamping, or just want to learn about the history of the area, there is something for every skill level and taste.

    • Replace technology with bike rides, swimming, volleyball in the sand, nature walks, beautiful sunsets that are hard to see from inside your house and the opportunity to make new friends. Even if you can’t do this overnight, consider going for the day.

    • Try to visit some of the local attractions that often get overlooked because they are right under your nose. Consider riding the carousel or playing in the fountain at Coolidge Park. Got to the zoo, attend a Lookouts game or play at the Warner Park Splash Park (Families are $5 on Mondays after 5 p.m.). Attend Nightfall or picnic at Movies in the Park at Coolidge Park in July.

    • Gather with friends. Have you ever talked about getting together with someone but didn’t set a date? The next thing you know, the summer is over and nothing ever happened. Make a plan!

    • Read the same book as a family. Let your children choose a book for the whole family to read and talk about it over a family meal.

    • Make a summer scrapbook. Each family member can be responsible for scrapbooking one of your summer events. Or, everyone can do their own thing for all of the summer’s activities.

    Don’t be afraid to jump off the merry-go-round of life in order to provide restoration for your family. Spend time this summer with the people who mean the most to you, because life is short. Instead of wishing you had, you’ll be glad to say you did.

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    How Technology Affects Families

    Do you remember when the only television at home was in the family room? Or when your family traveled in the car and everybody looked for license plates from all 50 states? Now, practically every vehicle has a DVD player and every home has several televisions. Technology is everywhere.

    In the last 50 years, technology has exploded. It is no longer in a fixed location with limited capability and parental supervision. It is literally unlimited and extremely difficult to regulate.

    At a conference on strengthening the family, author and clinical counselor, John Van Epp asked:

    • To what extent will families allow technology to be fused with their relationships?
    • Are families unplugging devices to really plug into each other?

    Based on several studies, it appears that families aren’t doing a great job of connecting.

    Consider these examples.

    A group from Boston Medical Center watched family interactions in fast-food restaurants, specifically looking at how caregivers engaged with children. Out of 55 families, 40 parents were doing something with their phone. The researchers refer to this as “absorption with the mobile device.” When a child started prompting a parent for attention, the child got in trouble for interrupting the parent.

    UCLA anthropologist Elinor Ochs conducted an intensive in-home, four-year study of 32 families on this issue. Ochs found the primary theme in these homes was multi-tasking among family members. She cites an all-too-familiar conversation between parent and child: “My parents always tell me that I can’t do homework while listening to music, but they don’t understand that it helps me to concentrate.”

    Strengthening his case, Van Epp cited David Myers’ work as the director of the University of Michigan's Brain Cognition Lab. Myers is very clear that the brain does NOT multi-task. It may act in parallel functions (touch, sound, vision), but when engaging in distinctly different tasks, the brain operates like a toggle switch. It jumps from one thing to another. Myers debunks the myth that students are great multi-taskers, stating, "The bottom line is you CANNOT simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay."

    “This constant multi-tasking that people are doing results in dopamine 'squirts.' These lead to an addiction to constant techno-activity,” Van Epp said. “Yet, studies show that downtime for the brain is essential to the development of identity, morals, empathy and creativity.”

    Van Epp issued a challenge: Lay your smart phone down. See if you can go for an hour without picking it up.

    “Research shows that technology is actually producing higher rates of anxiety among children and adults,” Van Epp said. “Apps are influencing child development and short-circuiting identity formation. They're also discouraging face to face interactions and creating superficial intimacy.”

    If you still aren’t convinced this is an issue, check out Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain in the New York Times. And for good measure, watch Gary Turk’s Look Up video on YouTube. 

    “We must begin balancing technology and real time with loved ones,” Van Epp said. “We can’t let technology define us. Advances in technology can never replace gains in family interactions.”

    So, what about you? Will your family unplug devices in order to really plug into each other?

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    The Value of Family Meals

    For more than 40 years, Lynn and Pat Panter have been hosting family dinner on Sundays after church.

    "It's funny, this is just something we have always done," says Lynn Panter. "When our children were little, we had Sunday dinner after church. As they got older, we kept on doing it. Here we are 40 years later with grown children, spouses, boyfriends and grandchildren seated around the table."

    Unlike some, the Panters don't require or expect anyone to come for family dinners.

    "There is no pressure to come," Lynn says. "If they have something else to do, they know they are free to go do it with no repercussions for not being present. We usually have between eight and 16 people seated around the table on any given Sunday."

    Between the laughter, the stories and discussions about the morning sermon at their respective churches, it is always a lively experience and a great way for the family to connect.

    "Even though my husband was on the road a lot when our daughters were young, the expectation was that we all ate dinner together," Lynn says. "This was our time to catch up with each other and the events of the day. It kept us connected even when schedules were hectic."

    Research shows that regular and meaningful family meals offer a variety of benefits both to children and adults. Studies suggest that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week positively affects child development and is linked to a lower obesity risk, substance abuse and eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school.

    Additionally, meals provide a sense of family unity and identity as well as teaching traditions. Discussions around the dinner table not only give children an opportunity to express themselves, they also teach them to wait their turn to speak and hear many different perspectives. In some instances, they learn how to agree or disagree.

    Family meals help parents transmit their values from one generation to the next and teach good table manners and etiquette. These times together as a family create a bond and shared memories that children carry with them long into adulthood.

    The key to the success of these gatherings is making them technology-free zones - no televisions, tablets, or cellphones allowed.

    "Some people probably wonder why we still have the Sunday dinners." Lynn says. "I think the biggest reason we still do it is because we really enjoy being together. We look forward to catching up with each other. It's not formal and everybody pitches in -- which is a good thing. In order to do something like this, you need to enjoy doing it, otherwise, it becomes a burden."

    If family meals has been on your "to do" list, this is the time to make it happen. Set a date, keep it simple and watch what happens. Family members, i.e., children, may balk at first, but once they get in the routine, they will look forward to time together. Who knows what may be happening at your house 40 years from now?

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    A Parents Holiday Survival Guide

    The song says it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And, in a lot of ways, it is wonderful. Something about the season seems to bring out the best in many folks. However, too much of a good thing can lead to serious meltdowns for children and parents alike.

    As you prepare to enjoy a wonderful season with your family, here are a few things to consider ahead of time.

    • When it comes to your expectations of your children, keep them realistic. During the holidays, everything they are used to in the way of bedtime, the food they eat, who they spend time with and more gets thrown to the wind. While it is tons of fun, children can only take so much before they move into overload - and we all know that never ends well. Everyone will be happier if you can keep some semblance of routine and structure.
    • Talk with your children about your plans for each day. Just like adults, it’s helpful if kids know what to expect. Keep it simple. Share the highlights.
    • Keep your cool. When your child has a meltdown, it can be a challenge for you to not have one, too. Yelling and getting angry will only make matters worse, so stop and take a deep breath. Then, if possible, take your child to a quiet place where they can regain control.
    • If you can, try to spread out the celebrations instead of doing everything in a 48-hour period. While it’s hard to say no to the grandparents, putting boundaries in place can make the celebrations more enjoyable for everyone, even if you celebrate on a different day. A note to grandparents: Your adult children often find it difficult to tell you no without feeling guilty. Asking your grown children what works best for them could really help them as they plan to celebrate.

    For those in the midst of co-parenting:

    • Talk about the fact that transitions are difficult. Sometimes just saying, “I don’t have a choice and you don’t have a choice; now how are we going to make the best of this situation?” can make things better for your child.
    • Make a plan. Discuss how to make the transition easier. Then use your time together to make it a special celebration.
    • Be prepared. Help them understand the possibility of a last-minute change in plans. Ask them what they would like to do instead and acknowledge the pain they may feel.
    • Stay in the parent role. While it might be tempting to be your child’s buddy, that is not what they need from you. It is very difficult to go back to being the parent once you have crossed that line. Before you make or change plans, think about how it will affect your child.
    • Children will follow your lead. If you have a bad attitude about the holidays, your children will probably follow suit. Set a positive mood for a holiday to remember.

    Planning for bumps in the road beforehand can reduce holiday stress in your family and increase the chances for a joyful holiday. Wherever you find yourself, choose now to make the best of the days ahead.

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    Making the Most of Family Time

    Sara and Jonathan Emanuel have five children between the ages of 3 and 13. At one point, their kids participated in cheer, dance, baseball, swim, tennis, Indian Princess and Girl Scouts.

    “In our home with children involved in this many activities, not to mention school and church youth group, we never had a moment that wasn’t filled,” says Sara. “I got to a point a couple of years ago where I hit a wall and didn’t want to do anything because I was so overwhelmed. I felt like I was being hit, rolled and turned like waves on the beach.”

    Sara and Jonathan began seriously discussing some much-needed changes. Close examination made them realize they were neglecting the things they believed were most important.

    “We wanted to recalibrate our family, which meant some big changes,” Sara says. “We made the decision to homeschool for a period of time – we also decided to pull back from all of the activities. For our family, it was probably the best decision we have made.”

    Because Jonathan has job flexibility to work while traveling, the Emanuels decided to head out for an extended summer trip.

    “Three years ago, we took our camper and drove to the furthest southern point of the Keys and stayed for a month,” Sara says. “We camped, cracked coconuts, biked all over the place and stopped at every place on the way there and back we thought would be interesting for the kids. We were studying biology and marine life so it was perfect. Lots of museums and other places to visit that fed right into what they were learning. The kids didn’t have Wi-Fi most of the time, which provided a welcome break from electronics. They read books and played board games purchased from McKay's. I am pretty positive I played Go Fish 1000 times in one week that summer.”

    Last year the family camped all around the Ozarks for three weeks. This year they had planned to go to Canada, but had issues with the camper. After a quick fix, they will head to Washington D.C., instead. They plan to visit historical sites and camp in the Virginia mountains for several weeks along the way.

    “It was a very tough decision to pull back, but if we had it to do over, we would definitely make the same decision,” Sara says. “I went from an attitude of ‘as long as my kids are breathing and aren’t hungry then I have done my job’ to long walks with them where they asked thought-provoking questions. The stress level in our family went down tenfold and the fighting between our kids diminished significantly.”

    The Emanuels realize this wouldn’t work for everybody. They do believe, however, it has made them purposefully examine their family’s activities. Instead of doing what everybody else was doing, stepping back helped their family remember what really matters to them.

    “Both my husband and I came to the realization that once this time with our kids is gone, it’s gone,” Sara shares. “You can’t be afraid to do what is in the best interest of your family – no matter what everybody else thinks. Instead of being exhausted all the time, we are more engaged with our kids. Jonathan takes two of our kids to weekly boxing lessons and that’s something the three of them do together. Sometimes we head out to the lake to throw the football and wander around. I love that we are not ‘go, go, go’ all the time. Both of us see a huge difference in how we communicate with each other and the amount of play that actually goes on. It feels like we are all more loving toward each other.”

    In his book, Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times, Dr. William Doherty says that while families have pursued worthwhile activities for their children, they have lost family time. Without consciously focusing on maintaining internal bonds, choices lead to hyperactive, emotionally-depleted families. He encourages parents to make family time and family activities a high priority.

    When the Emanuels were courageous enough to step back, they discovered what they were missing. Is your family missing out, too?