Life is full of phases and transitions. There are always factors at work changing our bodies and behaviors. Young adults feel these factors more strongly (e.g. puberty). Although everyone has generally gone through the same phases, it is easy to forget and struggle to connect to your child during these times.
When I was in third grade, I didn’t want to hang out with my family as often as I did when I was younger. I had new friends at a new school and wanted to fit in and be part of their community. I begged my mom to drive me to sleepovers or to the mall with friends so I could walk around, talk and look at boys. I wanted nothing to do with family dinners or weekends shopping with my mom. Does this sound familiar? Let me give you a few ideas to help find a family/friend balance with your child.
One of the easiest ways to stifle participation with the family is to demand it. Forcing your kids to talk or hang out with you and the family is the last thing on their list. However, this phase in their life should be recognized as just that: a phase. Ultimately, demanding merely creates resentment and anger towards each other.
Find a Common Ground
Pick activities your child enjoys and do them together. This will help bridge the gap. Get them involved by asking them what they would like to do, eat, see, whatever. Give them a budget and ask them to plan a family night out, activity, or class involving the entire family.
Respect Their Decisions
There will be times when your child chooses their friends over their family. Respect this decision and move on. Do what you had planned anyway and have a good time without them. Do not guilt trip them into coming along or brag about the fun times you had without them. Remember that it is normal and natural for kids to want to spend time with their friends and fit in with their peers.
Invite their Friends
Inviting your children’s friends to join your family is a great way to get your child to come along. They may want to talk with their friend and somewhat avoid the family, but at least you are together. This also allows you to meet their friends and get to know the kids with whom they are spending time.
Start a precedent early in life by scheduling family time and planning activities together as a family. If kids are accustomed to hanging out with the family and participating with the family, they will already find value in spending time together. Do not try to start family time when you see that they are breaking away from the family, start early.
Start an Activity Together
Finding an activity that no one has experienced is always fun. Everyone starts on equal footing. Take a class, start a sport, travel, or volunteer together. These are great ways to spend time while trying something new. I have a few friends that started Martial Arts at the same time their children began taking lessons.
Many families enjoy eating dinner together. However, it may be difficult to get everyone to the table at the same time. Have a dinner out once a week (or month), allowing each family member to take a turn picking the restaurant. Planning a weekly menu is another great way to spend time with your kids. Get them involved with planning (and eating) meals.
Having fun and interesting conversations at dinner will get your kids interested in sharing and participating during this time. Skip the “how was your day” and fill a jar with questions the family can ask and answer. I love Table Topics and have given them as gifts to parents several times. There are lots of great websites to find conversation starters as well.
Even at the age of thirty, I still love family game night. We used to play Catch Phrase growing up…we still tell stories of funny situations. Family Game night can be a board game, putt putt golf, a battle on the XBox , or a jam session on Rock Band. It doesn’t matter what it is, just as long as you are playing together.
Talk to Them
Sometimes all it takes for your child to participate is some words of encouragement. Tell them how much fun they are and how great it is spending time with them. Talk about fun times you’ve spent together and ask when you can do that again. They may not know how important it is to you that they participate in family events unless you tell them.
Allow your child to have some leeway about when they want to spend time with the family. Don’t force them, but encourage them and plan things that they enjoy doing. Helping them find a balance between friends and family will bridge the gap during these growing years.
Check out these great family sites:
Family rock climbing with the The Kid Project
100 Family conversations at Aha! Parenting.com
Surviving family game night at An Exercise in Narcissism
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