Simple things you can set in place with your kids from an early age that will benefit the whole family.
1. Go On Adventures
This doesn’t mean huge, epic family holidays. Far from it. But a 2010 study found that 85 per cent of kids aged between six and 12 longed for more adventure in their lives. Instigating tiny adventurous moments with your children, many experts agree, is the stuff that will harvest happy memories for years to come, and strengthen the bond between child and parent – so make hay while the sun shines.
Wrap everyone up warm just after dinner, grab a torch or two and go hunting for a hedgehog sighting. Sit quietly in a park on a summer’s day, crouch down with a toddler and see how many butterflies appear and disappear among the flowers and hedgerows.
In her book, Yes Please, actress Amy Poehler writes about the joys of spontaneous adventure with her two young sons. “I track lunar cycles on my iPhone and take my kids outside at night when a moon is new or full or blue. We call this ‘moon hunting’ and we bring flashlights and moon candy along. The moon candy looks suspiciously like M&M’s, but so far neither of my sons has noticed.”
Small adventurous moments such as these create space for children to enjoy spontaneous ‘free’ play, which can improve kids’ problem-solving abilities, social skills and risk assessment. A University of Essex study also found that even five minutes of ‘green exercise’ improves self-esteem and mental wellbeing – particularly for kids.
When your children are bigger, and better able, consider camping – in the backyard, or further afield – to toast marshmallows and tell stories, or even consider one- or two-day hikes. Activities such as these make space to further strengthen connections; provide opportunities for children to share thoughts, ideas or worries without feeling pressured to do so; and lead to a shared sense of accomplishment.
2. Keep Traditions – And Create New Ones
Celebrating and forging family traditions to enjoy year in, year out doesn’t only mean having the excitement of planning something together in the lead up to a holiday and time spent as a unit; having traditions may make for happier, healthier families overall.
It’s great to celebrate larger holidays together, sure, but creating traditions also includes those little daily rituals that bring you together and become a mark or symbol of who you are as a family.
Experts believe that rituals can be linked to happiness and a sense of wellbeing for everyone in the family, and studies show that children whose parents prioritise family traditions have improved emotional skills and sense of identity.
Playing board games on Friday nights, making pizzas together on Saturdays, reading a chapter of a book out loud to one another each evening before bed … little rituals create routine – something kids thrive on – but they also strengthen bonds and reinforce a sense of security and belonging; all crucial for wellbeing.
3. Get a Pet
Or, to be more precise, get a family dog for your home. Taking on the responsibility of owning a pet is no small thing, but if it does suit your brood (and budget!) and the time is right, it will no doubt benefit everyone in a variety of ways, both physical and emotional.
Dogs have fantastic capabilities for unconditional love and can act as a ‘best friend’ and staying comfort for children as they move through the many stages and struggles of childhood, puberty and young adulthood.
Maggie Dent is an Australian-based parenting author and educator, a ‘boy champion’ and a firm believer in the value a good dog can add to a home. She even last year released a book on the subject, A Dog’s Life Wisdoms, and says, “There is nothing like a good dog to come home to after a bad day. We all need to find safe comfort when life gives us a working over – when we make mistakes, fail exams, or struggle to complete things.”
Dent says having their family dog, Jess, helped her four sons feel better and became a great comfort to them after a lousy day. “They would stroke her and hug her and soon they would be feeling happier. She never got it wrong.”
Having a pet can be beneficial for everyone in the family and their mental wellbeing. Numerous studies show cuddling pets can lead to a boost in oxytocin, the ‘feel good’ chemical, and that having interactions with pets can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The Pet Health Council also reports that growing bodies of research show that “children who interact with animals have higher levels of self-esteem, have greater empathy and better social skills”, while a University of WA study found that children who have a dog get as much as two-and-a-half hours more exercise a week.
4. Talk. And Listen.
While growing research suggests children are spending an unhealthy amount of time looking at phones, tablets and TV screens, most of us adults could also do with spending less time attached to our devices. It’s estimated the average person now checks their phone up to 200 times per day.
Putting our phones down more often will have enormous benefits for our children. A recent study surveyed more than 6000 8-13 year olds and found almost a third of kids felt unimportant when their parents were distracted by phones during meal times, while having conversations, watching TV or playing outdoors. Of the kids surveyed, more than half had the opinion that their parents spent too much time on their phones.
Not only do studies show that children are aware when their parents aren’t actively listening to them, but our offspring also learn their habits at home and take cues from their carers.
Setting boundaries around technology will allow us to better engage with our children and set a better example around phone use and how it infiltrates the day.
Have clear ‘tech-free’ times throughout the day, such as mealtimes, and make it a habit to put phones and screens out of sight when kids turn to you to share stories about their day.
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