You want to spend time together as a cozy little unit this coming Family Day (or any day you have free to spend time together), but how do you ensure you actually reconnect as parents and children again? We asked Jennifer Kolari, a Toronto-based therapist and author of Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Kid for her best bonding tips to employ this coming weekend.
1. Charge your phones:…and leave them in their chargers. “Family Day weekend is about spending time together, so putting away the screens and phones are a good idea,” says Kolari. “And especially for busy, working parents, it’s a good idea to do that to really try and carve out that day to spend together.”
2. Set out the rules: Discuss as a family what you’re going to do and lay out the rules—perhaps it’s that everyone will spend the entire day together. Or that you don’t let certain kinds of games go too far and get out of control.
3. Be realistic: “Remember not to put pressure on yourself about this day,” notes Kolari. “Sometimes we think we have to do these fabulous elaborate things and instead togetherness can be as simple as playing board games and card games together.” Connecting as a family doesn’t always look like a Norman Rockwell painting.
4. Realize that behaviour doesn’t take a holiday: “Sometimes we build up these great days we’re all going to spend together and then we get even more upset when kids misbehave,” Kolari says. “So try to adjust your expectations for perfect behaviour for the perfect day. Be ready to roll with it because things will happen that day like any other, and don’t be hard on yourself or the kids if something does happen.”
5. Think play over teach: “Play is the language of children—it’s how they communicate and learn and they don’t often see adults just being silly,” she notes. Bring out your inner child to play by doing things such as having a sock fight—ball up your socks from your drawers and ping them at each other. “Not everything has to be a teaching moment. Instead, take your kids direction that day and have fun and make sure to lighten up a little bit,” Kolari says.
6. Remember why you’re doing this: There are huge benefits to reconnecting. “When you spend time with loved ones, reward chemicals release in your brain—opiates and endorphins and the hormone oxytocin, which is our “tend and befriend” hormone,” says Kolari. “Oxytocin makes us bond and is good for your child’s brain—I call it emotional nutrition. And it’s good for us too.”
7. Target a child: The more connected you are with a child, the more that child improves their behaviour. “Because your bond is tighter and they want to be closer to you and please you,” says Kolari. “Often when I work with families, I prescribe connected play because that alone will improve behaviour. And I always say to parents that the child you least feel like doing this with is the child who needs it the most because when the child is misbehaving and difficult, the bond is frayed a bit. That’s hard on everybody—it’s hard on the child. They get anxious and they act out which makes you pull away from them more. Those are the kids who need it the most for sure.”