Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jamie Martin of Steady Mom.
Something bewitching often occurs in families around 5 pm–toddlers enter meltdown mode, older children scramble to finish homework before dinner, and Mom and Dad rush to get a decent meal on the table.
It’s difficult to contemplate meaningful traditions when you’re just trying to survive until bedtime. We’ve all been there–that’s why parents need quick, simple techniques to cultivate an atmosphere of family closeness in our homes.
Here are five easy ideas to get you started.
1. Create a story.
You may spend an hour preparing a meal for dinner, only to have the food and your family vanish from the table within 15 minutes. Creating a story keeps everyone together just a little longer–and lends itself to laughter and imagination in the process.
Here’s how it works. One family member begins telling a story. After a few sentences the person to the right continues–with each pass around the table the plot develops until everyone has had a turn and the story ends.
Our family of five uses this technique at home and restaurants, where it helps to pass time until the food arrives. Even children as young as three years old can participate.
2. Choose a clean up song.
If you’re trying to teach your kids to help with after dinner messes, a clean up song can get everyone motivated. Pick an upbeat tune and play it during clean up every night. Soon the family will really feel as though they “own” that song, and it will serve as the cue to get those dishes washed.
Our family’s songs are currently “America” by Neil Diamond and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Complaints about helping with clean up usually dissolve into cheers as those first few bars of music are heard.
3. Count your blessings.
It only takes a few minutes after eating to have everyone share one or two things they are thankful for from their day. You can do this orally or one family member can write down the responses in a journal. (This free download from my blog may help as well.)
Get your family into the right frame of mind before bed–full of thanksgiving and anticipating a new day tomorrow.
4. Split up.
If you have multiple children, change the family dynamics around once in a while. Have your spouse take one child upstairs (or to a different room) while you stay downstairs with another. Giving that one-on-one attention allows for relationships to blossom and meaningful conversations to start.
When spending time together this way you can work on a special project, fold the laundry, or sit on the floor of a child’s bedroom. Make space just to be with each other–without distractions.
5. Snuggle and read.
You can’t go wrong with an evening read-aloud. When kids come home from a full day at school or parents return from work, a read-aloud bonds the family together with just one simple chapter a night.
Once you start a series, you’ll never have any trouble finding material to keep you going. Younger children will enjoy the Little House on the Prairie series and older children can’t help but get engrossed in the Chronicles of Narnia .
Often the most difficult aspect of starting a new ritual is choosing what to do. Don’t overthink it. Just pick one of these rituals and try it tonight. If it works, keep it up for a week or more. If not, try a different one.
Soon you may wonder how you ever washed the dishes without the sounds of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the background.
Jamie’s family of five is comprised of members from four countries. She blogs at Steady Mom and Simple Homeschool, and is the author of Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood.