A teacher of young children works hard to teach not only academic content but also good study habits. Parents teach their children self-care habits such as healthy eating, brushing their teeth, taking a bath regularly and cleaning their room.
But, what are your family habits? What types of things do parents teach their children about being a good family member? All family members are members of a community. So, I pose the question: What lesson about living in a community do we teach our children? How do we celebrate accomplishments together? Does everyone attend a family member’s recitals, plays or sporting events? Do other siblings help plan the birthday parties for their brothers or sisters? How about eating dinner together most nights of the week? Or, if schedules conflict, breakfast together in the mornings? When you do sit down together, is it a “no cell phone” zone? Does the “no cell phone” policy apply to parents as well?
If we are all in the same place at the same time eating together, whoever is calling is probably not an emergency and can likely wait 20 minutes. When you are at a restaurant, does everyone put cell phones away or is it the first thing to do when you sit down? If everyone is on a device, you are teaching your children that face-to-face interaction is unimportant and not worth the effort. How will they know how to engage with colleagues or partners when they are older if parents don’t teach these skills when they are younger?
There were valuable lessons to be learned when Hurricane Irma hit back in September 2017. Think back — did you prepare for it together? Did your family do projects together: cleaning up the yard and house? Did you prepare for the storm together? Not all projects are fun! Preparing for a hurricane or doing yardwork is often not fun. Children are not going to clamor to get up early on the weekend and clean the house (you probably won’t, either). However, it does teach responsibility and ownership. It also teaches teamwork — we made the mess, so we clean it up. When there’s a problem, we face it together.
What about during the hurricane? For me, I watched a family staying with us sit in different rooms, all on electronic devices, often watching the same thing with no interaction. I wondered why no one was talking to one another or playing a game. In that situation, the message was we are all safe and that is enough. I argue that it was a missed opportunity to talk about the weather, comfort each other and educate children on how a storm works. If your power went out, what did you do? (Great, no cable…now what?) It allows you the chance to play a game, talk about what you will do together when the power comes back on, create crafts or learn how to make lunch with no electricity. All of these activities become catalysts for conversation and memory builders.
Remember, what children want more than anything else is you! They want your attention and social interaction. Playing games, taking a walk after dinner, eating together, cooking together or reading books out loud together all allow children to get the direct time with parents that they want so much. By structuring that time, you can decide by your energy level or mood how much energy you want to expend. If you are tired, pick a family show to watch together — no cell phones allowed. Children learn how to interact with others from you. If you do not allow for these opportunities, they cannot learn these skills. Consider what family activities sound fun to you and use these as options. It is not about what you do; it is about the attention from you. Create rich family time for your loved ones, and you will all quickly be hooked and want to do more.