Fun and play are important for children. I often marvel at a child's capacity to enjoy fun. Take a look around Sunway Lagoon or any other theme park and watch how these youngsters enjoy themselves with total abandonment. They also seem to have the uncanny ability of turning a mundane chore of car washing into fun-filled water fight, often to the disapproval of their parents. We cherish the memories of such childhood activities. They warm our hearts and connect us to the past.
Fun time builds good memories. One aspect of family life is that it is a museum of memories – good as well as bad ones. Families who purposely cultivate a lifestyle filled with healthy fun are storing up treasures which will yield priceless dividends.
Besides building memories, there are other benefits. For one, there is improved communication. The family that does things together communicates better. Shared experiences make good topics for conversation. Even activities that went "wrong" can be transformed into hilarious stories to be retold (with deliberate exaggeration perhaps) for years to come. These are good material for fond memories.
Common interests can be cultivated to give a family identity. There are so many "window-shopping families" these days. Hopefully it's done by choice and not out of lack of choices, for there are many alternatives to window-shopping. Explore other outdoor options such as hiking, mountain climbing, snorkelling or camping. Even if this is only an occasional event for the family, the experience is treasured even more.
Family fun time need not cost an arm and a leg. A deck of cards can give many hours of fun and laughter. Invest in some board games or improvise with home made materials.
The family bond is strengthened through time spent together. This is especially crucial for young families. Wise are the parents who do their best to schedule regular fun times with their children. Many of us are very concerned with our children's education, so much so that learning becomes stressful for both parties. Try incorporating fun element in their learning and take the stress out of the experience.
When our children reach the teenage years, it's harder to schedule family fun time together especially if the habit has not been cultivated in their earlier years. Teenagers sometimes need to be convinced that they can have fun with their parents occasionally. Parents, on the other hand, need to realise that they have to move with time and make adjustments..
Fun time is a stress-reliever, a break from routine. All of us, young and old, need it.
Question 1: My family lives together under one roof, and we share the same last name, but we don't "feel" like a family. How can I begin to put a sense of togetherness into this harried household? How do you put meaningful activities into your family?
Answer: One way to accomplish that is by creating traditions in your home. By traditions I'm referring to those recurring events and behaviours that are anticipated, especially by children, as times of closeness and fellowship between loved ones.
In our family, the centrepiece of our holiday traditions is food. These holidays are wonderful experiences for all of us. There's laughter and warm family interaction throughout the day. We look forward to that festive season, not just for the food, but for what happens between loved ones who come together on that occasion.
The great value of traditions is that they give a family a sense of identity and belonging. All of us desperately need to feel that we're not just part of a busy cluster of people living together in a house but we're a living, breathing family that's conscious of our uniqueness, our character, and our heritage. That feeling is the only antidote for the loneliness and isolation that characterise so many homes today.
Question 2: We are not able financially to take long car trips or get into expensive hobbies. Could you suggest some simple traditions that will appeal to small children?
Answer: You don't have to spend huge amounts of money to have a meaningful family life. Children love the most simple, repetitive kinds of activities. They want to be read the same stories hundreds of times and to hear the same jokes long after they've heard the punch lines. These interactions with parents are often more fun than expensive toys or special events.
A friend of mine once asked his grown children what they remembered most fondly from their childhoods. Was it the vacations they took together or the trips to Langkawi or the zoo? No, they told him. It was when he would get on the floor and wrestle with the kids. They would tackle the "old man" and laugh until their sides hurt. That's the way children think. The most meaningful activities within families are often those that focus on that which is spontaneous and personal.
This is why you can't buy your way out of parenting responsibilities, though many have tried. Busy and exhausted mothers and fathers, especially those who are affluent, sometimes attempt to "pay off" their deprived kids with toys, cars, and expensive experiences. It rarely works. What boys and girls want most is time spent with their parents -- building things or singing in the car or hiking.
In short, many families have forgotten how to have fun in everyday experiences. The things they do together can become hallmarks of their years together. No toy to be played with alone can ever compete with the enjoyment of such moments. And they will be remembered for a lifetime.
This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and extracted from "Love Must Be Tough" by Dr. James Dobson with permission.
Focus on the Family 90-second commentaries is aired over TRAXX FM at 7.30 am Monday to Friday