The beginning of September can feel a lot like New Year’s when you’re a parent. After all, it marks the start of a whole new year — a whole new school year, in this case. So what could be fitting than taking this opportunity to make a few school-year resolutions as a family?
Not quite sure what types of resolutions to make?
Here are three simple yet powerful school-year resolutions you might want to consider making this year.
There’s a solid body of research to support the benefits of eating together as a family. Kids who eat dinner with their parents on a regular basis eat more vegetables, are less likely to become overweight, are less likely to smoke, take drugs, or drink alcohol; do better in school; and have stronger communication skills. In other words, family mealtimes lead to happier, healthier kids.
The challenge, of course, is to find a way to have dinner together as a family when you’re busy juggling work, school, and extra-curricular activities. This is easier to pull off if you keep your definition of what constitutes family dinnertime fluid and flexible. Nora Spinks, CEO of The Vanier Institute of the Family, explains: “September is a great time to resolve to eat dinner more often together as families. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s around your dining room table or around your kitchen table. You can have high-quality conversations and interactions at family meal time, even if it’s in the food court.”
So it’s less a matter of where you connect and more a matter of how you connect. In order to make room for the kind of high-quality conversations and interactions that truly make a difference for kids, family members need to be ready to truly connect with one another without being lured away by the distraction of an electronic device.
Books aren’t just good for your brain. They’re also good for your relationships and your health. So why wouldn’t you want to make reading together as a family part of your regular routine?
Consider the evidence in support of reading. Kids who are exposed to books on a regular basis benefit both academically and socially. They have richer vocabularies and they’re more empathetic (because being immersed in the lives of characters we care about gives us practice in seeing the world through another person’s eyes). And it’s not just kids who benefit from getting deeply immersed in a story, by the way. There’s brand new research to show that reading regularly boosts longevity (by helping to ward off cognitive decline). So you’ll definitely want to commit to hitting the books yourself!
There are far-reaching benefits to taking family walks. It’s an opportunity to talk and connect with your kids while you’re getting some exercise and enjoying the mental/physical health benefits of being physically active. It can take a while for a child to open up to a parent — or for a conversation to move beyond a superficial exchange. Walking together ensures that you find that time.
Just don’t expect these family walks (or any time you spend together as a family, for that matter) to be all magic, all the time. That’s not realistic. And, as it turns out, the not-so-perfect times are the stuff of which great stories and hilarious family memories are made. Jessica Anderson, a mother of three who is also the CEO of North Hastings Child and Family Centre in Bancroft, Ontario, had this to say about sidestepping the “everything has to be perfect” trap: “I think that the most important thing to remember with spending quality time and connecting is that it might not look like the perfect scenario. It might be where they’re complaining about how hot it is or how cold it is, if you go for a walk, or they’re saying the bugs are bothering them, but I think at the end of the day, those are the memories that they’ll have and I think that’s really important.”
Some final advice
Don’t just expect these changes to happen, just because you’d like them to happen. Understand that you have to take action to turn these resolutions into the new normal for your family. Nora Spinks offers this very practical suggestion: “Plan it. Don’t add it to your to do list. Add it to your calendar. If you don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen automatically.”
Of course, as important as it is to plan and schedule, you don’t want your life to feel like an endless list of obligations. It’s important to leave room in your family’s schedule for some spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fun. It’s amazing what a difference just an hour or two of unanticipated joy can make in your kids’ lives and your life. So be sure to leave some room in your life for the unscheduled and the unexpected, too.
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