The importance of Family Night
This week’s post is inspired by some reflection I was doing this past week on how busy today’s family can be. With school, sports, work, and (hopefully) church, the idea of finding time for family nights is almost laughable. For many, the only available family night is the time in the drive-thru before sports!
Before we begin, I want to take the time for us all to acknowledge how hard it can be. Take a deep breath, you're doing your best!
This post isn’t to shame or judge, and it’s not to offer a clear, obvious, and easy panacea for your entire family-life. But what we will offer is an actionable, simple solution that you can try today!
Consider this post and blog a series of tips and reminders in a community designed to hold you accountable as you seek to move from overwhelmed to Purposeful Parenting. To quote one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Gary Keller, “mastery is not a destination, it’s a journey.” This blog is a series of signposts on that journey—resources, tips, and stories designed to direct and guide you as you move into Purposeful Parenting. #noperfectparents
Ok—let’s get started!
The why behind Family Night:
We talked about play in our last post, ‘The Most Overlooked and Easy Parenting Tip,’ including the benefits on self-worth, performance in school, and emotional health. The habit of a Family Night is an extension of the same ideas and will benefit a lot of the same things. If you started to work on the Love, Talk, Play idea from last week’s post, then this will be a very natural addition. If you didn’t catch that post you can read it here.
From a brain science standpoint, play releases oxytocin, an anti-anxiety and anti-aggression chemical. The lack of production of this chemical is a big reason why children who are emotionally neglected are three times more likely to develop depressive disorders or generalized anxiety disorder (Brown, "Childhood abuse and neglect" 1999). Consistent engagement between parents and children has also been shown to lead to significantly better performance in school. For example, a University of Illinois study found that consistent family time that includes talk and play led to consistently high standardized test scores, and a Columbia University study found that only 9% of teens who had frequent family time reported receiving grades of a C or lower. That’s a 91% group that receives significantly better grades while reporting consistent and regular family time.
For parents, setting a Family Night also trains you to engage with your children in a positive way, which isn’t always easy in other areas of life, especially after long days at work. For example, creating a routine that includes a Family Night will establish interaction habits that will transition into helping with homework, sports, and more. Essentially, knock over the first domino of Family Nights and watch how your relationships improve through other daily activities. As an anecdote, some high school-aged youth I interviewed said that their friends may be unwilling to spend time with their parents as teens because they have not had experiences that show that their parents can be fun and engaging as children. Wise!
Other benefits for the family include practical motor skills and soft skills development. Sometimes it can be incredibly overwhelming to think if ways to develop these crucial skills in your children, starting at a young age.
"Having an established Family Night is a simple way to benefit the physical, emotional, and mental development of your children—it helps you move from overwhelmed to purposeful parenting"
It also provides a chance for parents to slow down from work and extra-curricular activities. For some of us, it may feel like life is accelerating at an unbearable pace and there’s very little that will slow it down. Vacations help, but a Family Night will help your pace to feel manageable on a weekly basis. It is a time to reflect and remember what matters most.
Finally, this opens up time to talk with your children. It doesn’t matter how young or old they are, communication is of vital importance to your family’s health. For young children, it develops key language and communication soft skills. This is another reason why family time has often led to better performance in school. For adolescents and youth, it opens doors to help guide your children through important times of transition. In fact, studies conducted at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse through Arizona State University reveal that teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to abuse alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.
A personal story...
I remember very distinctly, when I was about eight years old, riding in the passenger seat of my dad’s 1986 Toyota Pickup (which I would later be handed the keys to), coming back from the auto parts store, picking up a pizza from Papa John’s, listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Will album, grabbing my favorite Bionicle's movie from Blockbuster, and arriving home to sit with my dad and enjoy a night together. This super-simple activity was actually extended and intentional quality time with my dad where I got to choose something I was interested in, and it made me feel valued and loved. And to this day, I remember the exact details of that night.
Unplug, slow down, and create the habit today. Your impact will be felt for years to come as you #investinyourchild.
A few ideas for Family Night:
Family game night
Set one night a week to sit down, put the phones away, and play a game together! This one is great because it usually follows a family dinner, and it teaches skills like sharing, winning, losing, and strategy. Plus, board games are fun, and many kids today have no idea how to play the popular games you may have grown up with.