Most families start out close—almost by definition. Kids snuggle up to their parents for comfort, for sleep, or just to be carried from one place to another. But as kids get older, faster, and busier—and as interests multiply and diverge—it can feel hard to connect even with the people who live in the rooms right down the hall from us. Family time is the time we take to stay close to each other, and it’s important. What we do during family time is another question.
Kids, parents—we all love what we can do and see on our screens, whether that’s a phone, a tablet, a video game console, or just the TV. We may even have things that we like to do or watch together. And that’s fine. That’s family time. But when we’re watching our screens, we’re not seeing—and probably not hearing—each other.
Here are some fun and rewarding ways to unplug with your family.
Make Dinner Together
Warm, homey, and delicious-smelling—there’s a reason the kitchen is such a popular gathering place. When your family prepares and eats a meal together, you not only have plenty of time to share stories and laughs, but also the opportunity to share family recipes and traditions. What’s the secret ingredient in your dad’s turkey chili? How did your grandmother keep her oatmeal raisin cookies from sticking? After the meal, have everyone stick around to wash the dishes and clean up. Then celebrate with an after-dinner walk (see below).
Go for a Walk
Getting outside, even for a short time, gets you away from the distractions and cares of everyday life and puts you in touch with the larger world. Sharing this experience with your family can make outdoor time even more enjoyable—and meaningful. Learn what places in the neighborhood are special to the other members of your family. Tell stories about how things have changed. Say hello to the people you know along the way. If you’re able to, leave all your phones and devices at home. Get lost, and find your way home by starlight.
Play a Board Game
If the idea of walking and talking has certain members of your family rolling their eyes, suggest a family game night instead. Pop some popcorn, clear the dining room table, and settle down for a board game or several hands of cards. Looking for something beyond Candyland and Monopoly? Try some of these top-reviewed games. Or if all you have is a deck of playing cards, try these card-game classics for kids or people of all ages.
With movies, TV shows, and YouTube to keep us constantly entertained, we may occasionally lose track of the fact that we have our own stories to tell. Whether we gather around a fire and tell ghost stories, or just sit around and tell funny stories of our childhoods, storytelling is one important way that we exercise our empathy and learn what makes other people tick. Need something to get the conversation going? Try a set of conversation-starting cards (or just make your own). Looking for story ideas? These folktale collections draw from cultures around the world.
These and other unplugged activities are not just great for strengthening family bonds. They also help to lower stress and improve child development. And they’re great for your family’s physical and mental health too. Start out by setting aside one night each week. They’ll soon be wondering why you don’t do this kind of thing more often.