On Monday night when I walk in the door after work, the energy of my children and their beaming smiles are contagious. They have been preparing for my homecoming all day, and then have waited anxiously at the window watching for me to come home. They look forward to this night all week because Monday is our weekly family night. I have found, both in my own family and in my counseling practice, that this ritual alone can help set a positive tone for families each week and can increase healthy family cycles in all three of the TRU Parenting Principles.
Why Family Nights?
- Teach: A great family night is one of the most productive parenting tools for teaching proactive virtues, values and skills, preventing negative behavior and solving family conflicts.
- Relationships: Consistent family nights show our children that they are a top priority and allow us to spend dedicated time and energy with our kids and family.
- Upgrade yourself: family nights provide a formal opportunity to set personal goals, review and adjust them and to be accountable to our kids and spouse. They challenge us to be a little better each week.
My wife and I had our first family night the Monday after we were married. It was different back then with just the two of us, but we knew that we wanted family night to be a firm tradition in our home and so we got started right away. As our family has grown we have incorporated each of our children into the preparation and presentation of our weekly family night. We have learned some important elements of creating time together as a family that is positive, effective and promotes the TRU principles above. We’ve found that these elements not only make for an enjoyable evening, one night a week, but set in motion cycles of cooperation, kindness and happiness.
The important part of these family nights is certainly not that everyone is perfectly compliant and sitting still the whole time. The lessons are rarely taught without significant tangents. The games are usually confusing, with rules made up on the spot. The audience is full of wiggles most of the time but the treats are always good! My wife and I almost always walk away wondering whether the kids got anything out of the lesson, but are later blown away when our 4 or 6 year old spouts off some amazing emotional insight or solution to a conflict with their brother that they learned during family night.
Great family nights are built on the idea that everyone in the family has an important role and stake in the family and we all contribute. Everyone gets to participate at whatever level they are at. My wife and I have a chart that makes it easy for each of the kids to know and remember what their responsibility is for family night. At any given time throughout our week, the whole family can look at the chart and know what to plan for. Each week we rotate our family night responsibilities so everyone has a chance to do something purposeful during our family night.
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Six Elements of a great Family Night
1. Plan time together: Make sure to designate a time, general place and name for the night. My family refers to our night as “Family Home Evening.” It’s pretty straight forward but not terribly exciting. You can call your family night whatever you want. You could simply call it family night or you could give it some crazy name like “The weekly Smithson extravaganza.” The point is to have a name so you can refer to it throughout the week. My family does our family night on Mondays following dinner until bedtime, and we generally always at least start it at home. This night is sacred! It is a priority. When other things come up we say, “Sorry, we’ve got a prior engagement.” It is one of the most important appointments on our calendar and if there is some extenuating reason we cannot do it on Monday one week, we reschedule before moving forward.
2. Pray and/or Sing together: Life can get crazy. There is an age old adage that says, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Prayer allows for a moment of quiet meditation and thoughtful gratitude as a family. It’s a pure expression of faith, gratitude and love for God and the members of the family. Singing or just sharing and enjoying good music together is a powerful way to teach and illicit positive feelings. With young children, they love to sing silly songs with hand and body motions that help them practice useful skills in a fun way. As our kids have grown up we often sing songs they have learned and are practicing at church or school. (Hymns, children’s Sunday school songs, folk tunes etc.) You can learn a lot about a child by the music they share with you. You can connect with them through the music they choose.
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3. Share talents/achievements together: Each week one member of the family shares something with the rest of the family that they are working on. They might share talents that they are pursuing. They can play the piano, shoot baskets, read, do math problems or share a piece of art they worked on. This practice builds genuine self-esteem and self-worth and allows us to encourage one another to learn and grow. My small children have shown us their flips on the trampoline, headstands or somersaults. They have presented their mother with notes they have written or bracelets they have created. It also promotes their self exploration of different interests.
4. Play together: Do something fun. Keep it all upbeat and fun but especially during the play time, do something that the kids love. Some of my kid’s favorite games are “the animal game (Animal charades), “Hide and seek,” “Playing sports in the yard” or playing in the water in the summer time. Devote part of your family night to just playing together with no distractions.
5. Learn together: As soon as our kids have started to talk and show interest, they are invited to help teach the family something with Mom or Dad’s help. When my youngest son was only 2 ½ or 3 years old he wanted to teach a lesson all by himself. He sat in his Lightning McQueen chair and held up a picture of Noah’s Ark and taught us about all of the animals, and I mean all of the animals! I remember sitting there with my wife, listening to this two year old boy go on for ten or fifteen minutes about the animals. He was beaming. He was so proud that he could teach a lesson all by himself.
When I talk about positive ways to discipline, I often talk about “teaching during the good times.” Family night is the perfect opportunity for teaching during the good times. The goal of this teaching/learning time together is not always to have perfectly quite and still children, or to master some skill there in that moment. The goal is to simply expose our families to positive skills and learning while giving them opportunities to teach and grow. Most lessons at our home are taught while kids are upside down on the couch or squirming on the floor but it is always amazing to see what they retain and learn.
6. Eat together: I think this is my children’s favorite part of family night. They love the treats! Each of them has an opportunity from time to time to select the treat they want to give to the family. They can make it or buy it at the store. When it is their night to do treats they also get to dish up the treats and distribute them to their siblings. They love it. There is something about eating together and enjoying discussion over good food that brings people closer together. It builds bonds and nurtures relationships.
The difference one night can make
People say that kids spell Love, T-I-M-E, but time is a finite resource. We only have so much and it can be hard to find the time that we need with our kids. To carve out one night a week that can be devoted to the family, is taking a huge step in the right direction. We make time, and then we let our world conform to it, instead of us to it. I’ve had client’s that have changed almost nothing else in their homes, but within weeks of instituting a weekly family night, they have seen significant improvements in attitudes, behaviors and decreases in family stress levels. As they put the one night a week in place, other things seem to fall in place. The truth is that they are not just “falling in place,” but the positive time together spurs new feelings of love and respect and as a result, the whole family dynamic changes.
Make a commitment for one night a week and in no time, you’ll see improvements the other six nights!
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Question: Do you have a weekly family night? What do you do for family night?
Take a look at the at the following family night charts for DIY ideas or to purchase some their fun designs.
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