Much has been made of the importance of families having dinner together. It’s been a marker in studies — over decades now — that predicts lots of good things. Setting aside time promotes a chance for families to talk and hear about what’s happening in each other’s lives, and gives kids a platform that promotes easy conversation with parents (such that they are more likely to use parents as a source of support). For some parents, it’s a time to reinforce, or even put into place, some small rituals like practicing gratitude. A few years back I interviewed John Jacobs, co-founder of the Life is Good brand, and he espoused the utility of asking kids to share, at dinner, something that happened that day that promoted gratitude.
While families should have dinner together more frequently, another old-fashioned idea that is a winner is to have a family game night now and then. Why? Here are 3 reasons to consider.
1. It’s fun for the entire family. Sounds stupid, right? But the reality is that a lot of family life is not so much fun these days. Parents are busy. Kids are busy. Everyone is displaced in time and space, doing all the things parents and kids do. When everyone is home, there are more things to do. Responsibilities loom large.
And down time (what little down time may be available these days) may be spent individually, driven by our individual electronic devices. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not family fun.
Families need to do goofy things together to let loose. There should be collective laughter. Everyone can step out of their roles and be, well, people. It can help families de-stress as a unit. And overall family mood — a big aspect of home life that predicts lots of outcomes for kids — will be lifted.
2. It’s important to have uninterrupted family time. In addition to having fun, families need some time together that is not undermined by distraction. This is not a rant against mobile technology and all that stuff. There are many advantages to having a smartphone. But more and more it’s that mobility — having this thing with you all the time — that can make family time disjointed. We all have these devices making noises at us, demanding our attention over and over again with notifications and rings and vibrations. I am not a very tech-driven person, but as my own experiment I selected a bunch of intrusive sounds to flag new emails, texts, and the like (like a choo-choo sound). It was a reminder of how much background noise we have.
So, family game night can provide a respite from that for a little bit of time now and then. Put the devices away for 2 hours and interact with each other. Psychologists who study creativity often talk about the concept of “flow” — that state of being when you are in a zone where the ideas are, well, just flowing without interruption. We hear now about mindfulness and the benefits of that. Well, social time for families also needs opportunities to develop its own uninterrupted rhythm to foster better communication. You’d be surprised, but having to take turns, look at each other, listen, and act in a reciprocal manner — without interruption — can be therapeutic.
3. What happens when you spend time together having fun and communicating? You reinforce family bonds. You develop cohesion and a team spirit. If this sounds like hogwash (I haven’t used that term in ages), consider how many corporations throw big bucks at consultants to come into the workplace to work on these things. Why? Because it improves collective functioning as a unit. Better habits get established in terms of working together and supporting each other. What family living in this day and age couldn’t use a little more than this?
Be creative. Family game night can be whatever you all like to do. Bring out the board games. Play whatever games or activities you all would enjoy using technology (game night doesn’t have to be a board game). Go bowling. Or whatever. It should feel like fun. And be uninterrupted.