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Family Habits

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This time of year is all about rest, recreation, recovery – spending time with our families and reconnecting. It is also a time of resolution. We look forward to the new school year as a fresh start, an opportunity. I am suggesting we commit to carrying our summer family time into the school year. We are all incredibly busy. Parents are often working two jobs and kids are participating in summer activities, in addition to work and vacations. We often don’t eat meals together, and we sometimes don’t see each other in any meaningful way except some brief encounters on the weekend. One of the results of this hectic lifestyle is that we don’t know each other, what’s happening in our lives – good and bad – our interests, hopes, fears. During the middle school years, kinds are particularly reticent, often unwilling to share any part of their lives. Because we are together for such a short time, conversations and interactions tend to focus on immediate circumstances, instead of “just being a family.” Here are some ideas that might allow you to spend more time together in more meaningful ways. I would suggest that you try to eat at least one meal together each day. If that is impossible, then aim for at least one meal a week. Make these “mandatory” – no exceptions or excuses. Use the time to talk as well as to eat. Tell me one nice thing you did for someone today. Or that someone did for you. Tell me something that annoyed you at school (or work) today and how did you handle it. You might even take turns coming up with the topic. Make sure "themes" can't be answered with a yes or no only. In my house we could talk about anything – sometimes pretty hard on a dad with a wife and two daughters! You can even take turns coming up with a topic. But just a simple “How was your day” will generate great discussions if you ask all the follow-up questions. Schedule a family fun night. Choose your day carefully after reviewing everyone’s plans and schedules. Then, as with study time and family dinners, that time is sacred. You may want to remind them in the morning that tonight’s the night. Use the time to play a game, watch a movie, do a craft. If you can do family fun night once a week, that’s great. But don’t schedule it if you can’t keep the schedule. Every other week is good. You should strive for at least once a month. Read a book together and hold a discussion. We aren’t looking for an academic analysis of a classical text (although that would be just fine!) We are looking for an opportunity to share an experience. You will be amazed at how much fun you can have discussing a story like “Jack and the Beanstalk.” At first you may meet some resistance and have some complaints, but soon everyone will look forward to these nights. Also remember that they can become part of your reward system: your child can choose the meal, activity, game, craft, or book. And the rewards to your family are immeasurable. Somehow it’s easier in the summer to establish these types of routines and schedule these types of activities. If it’s true it takes 30 days to create a habit, the time is now! And by the time school starts, you’ll already be in the habit of family dinners and fun nights.

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