It might seem like a total fantasy, but the dream of a successful family night (even with teenagers!) is easier than you might think. We spoke with experts for tips on making these activities a fun bonding experience. Here’s how to get the kids excited for quality together-time.
"Hanging out and having fun together is one of the most important things families can do. It benefits every aspect of a child’s growth, including social, emotional, and cognitive development.” — Dr. Amber Ankowski
Start Them Early
It’s important to make family night an expected routine with your kids from a young age, according to Amber and Andy Ankowski, the pros behind the charming blog, “The Doctor and The Dad.” On the site, Amber, a developmental psychologist specializing in children and, her husband, Andy, an award-winning copywriter, dole out parenting advice and hilarious stories about their life with three kids.
“When your kids are still little, they have no driver’s licenses, no social lives, and every night is family night,” Amber says. “So if you start doing fun family activities together then, there’s a better chance that it’ll become a natural tradition by the time your kids start actually having better things to do.”
But don’t give up hope if your kids are a bit older and tougher to bargain with.
“Tempt them with things you know they’ll want, like letting them choose what’s for dinner or what movie you’ll watch together,” she says. “If you’re having a game night, try offering a prize to each night’s winner.”
No Phone Zone
There are a lot of electronic distractions for everyone in each waking moment of our lives. But family night isn’t one of them.
“Phones can be addicting,” says Kristin Eldridge. The family photographer and contributing blogger for “Modern Parents Messy Kids,” says that your kids feel the same way. “Acknowledging this with my kids helps with (getting) everyone to put their phones on the counter while we watch a movie,” she says. “If it's in my lap, it's hard to ignore that email. And if they have their phones, they'll want to text their friends. So, we're all in it together.”
Complete Projects Together
Making your kids a part of projects around the house is a good way to build their confidence, and make them feel like important, contributing members of the household says Amber. Plus, who can't use a little extra help?
“By using family night as a time for accomplishing big projects instead of simply playing, you can even check a few things off your infinitely long to-do list,” adds Andy.” The couple recommends tasks like redecorating rooms, cleaning out and reorganizing toy collections, planning birthday parties and holidays and family dinners.
Work on A Long-term Goal
A far-off goal like going on a family vacation takes time to plan and save up for, and involving your children in the decision-making process during your evenings together is guaranteed to pique their interest.
“Our vacations are focused on things the kids will love, and we get really into looking at different activities and locations that are different from year-to-year,” Eldridge says. “Last summer, we planned a trip to Montana to visit my parents. Our kids loved spending family nights planning out river rafting, horseback riding and camping. When we got back from the trip, we spent a family night doing a slide show with all our vacation photos.”
Don’t Overthink It
While an on-point theme might be fun to incorporate on some nights, family time shouldn’t feel like an uptight, regimented event.
“Remember, the goal is to make memories with your kids and spend quality time with them,” says Eldridge. Her advice: don’t force an activity, especially if you’re getting resistance. “If you know your older kids think a theme is cheesy, you may want to ditch it and have a more spontaneous evening.”
Make the Night A Priority
“Research shows that kids who have more family dinners experience many positive benefits, including better grades, fewer behavior problems and healthier eating habits,” says Dr. Ankowski.
“And it makes for the best possible family relationships, too.”
Good relationships mean better communication which is key to a life-long bond. “By communicating regularly about the little things that happen during family nights, kids can feel more comfortable coming to parents when bigger, more difficult ‘real-life’ stuff comes up," she says. Sure there are a lot of benefits to family night but the key is to make it a regular occurrence.
“When you look back on your childhood, many of your most cherished memories are probably regular traditions that you took part in as a family,” says Andy. "These are treasured memories, but they don’t just happen by accident. So make it a priority to make these things happen for your kids, too.”