Friday, May 30, 2008

Family Friday! A Family That Plays Together Stays Together

Family Night: Simple and Powerful

The Whys and Hows of Family Night

By Wayne Parker,

Our family first heard about the concept at church: one night a week, set aside with no TV, no interruptions and no excuses–for our immediate family to be together. For about 20 years now, we have been practicing the concept of family night, and it has been powerful in our home. This article is designed to offer tips and tricks for implementing a weekly family night and for keeping it going.

Why Family Night?

A 1998 study by the University of Michigan found that children, on average, spend about 43 minutes per week in "household conversations" and about 12 hours per week watching TV. That sounds like a major imbalance, but look at your own situation. Maybe it's not television; it might be soccer or gymnastics or music lessons, but there are just a lot of distractions for families today. Are we investing the time where it best serves our needs or are we letting school, community, church and other demands pull our time and attention away from home?

How Does Family Night Work?

The general concept of a weekly family night is to spend an evening once a week where the family is together having a meaningful experience together. In other words, watching the latest installment of a favorite sitcom doesn't count! The basic principles include:

The time is set

Having a standard time each week allows better family planning. It is best if you can pick a given night each week (every Monday or every Thursday) and keep it there. At the outset, this might not be possible but should be a goal.

Everyone commits

When a family decides to focus on family night, each member commits to making it work. That means we have to say "no" to conflicts. Teenage kids need to have the night off from work and school activities. Moms and dads say no to work projects, phone conversations, and athletic events. Athletic teams understand that practices would have to not conflict and if it means that someone doesn't make the team, then the choice is made for family. This is one of the hardest parts of a family night program, but it is essential.

Time is spent together

Ever been in a situation described by Stephen Covey as a "collective monologue?" This is where everyone speaks or does their activity but in the same room with others. Collective monologues are not acceptable for family night. Television, listening to music or everyone reading something different doesn't count. Family activities on family night involve everyone together. Activities such as walking or hiking, playing board games, working together in the yard, being involved in community service projects, visiting relatives together and the like are the model.

No heavy stuff

Family nights are not the time for discipline, for arguing, for forcing compliance. If you make it onerous, you will have a mutiny on your hands. Make them light, fun and engaging. And a little variety helps a lot.

So, you're sold on the idea of a family night each week. How does a dad get the ball rolling?

Hold a Family Council

Invite the family together to discuss the need for more family time and introduce the concept. Make it fun and inviting. Talk about a variety of ideas that would appeal to all family members. Some might prefer a hike while others might think a cookie baking night is enticing. Mention both! Look for commonalities. Then ask for support.

Speaking of Treats

Children love treats! For many families, a special treat is a highlight of family night. For those without dietary restrictions, think root beer floats, ice cream sundaes or other decadent sweets. For families like ours, you might need to use watermelon, cheese and crackers or other healthier options. It sounds simple, but reserving your best dessert for family night can be a real motivator.

Practice Saying No

Invariably, as soon as you decide to set aside a weekly family night, you will be inundated with conflicts. Have some integrity and be willing to say no more often. It may be tempting to go to the big game with your friend, but be willing to say thanks, but no thanks. If the soccer team practices at the same time as family night, be willing to find another team or not play. It is important to make sure that your commitment is firm. Remember the feeling of the children in the movie Hook when their dad (Robin Williams) says, "My word is my bond"? Keep your word and put family first.

There are more options than you think for good family night activities. Here are some that have worked well for us.

Low Impact Outside Games

Our children are not great athletes, but they love the competition. We put a badminton net up in the backyard, and love to play a little badminton. Croquet is another favorite. And sometimes we have played basketball shooting games like Horse or Around the World that even the smaller children can enjoy (with a little help).

Family Service

Last week for our family night, we all met in the kitchen to mix up and bake cookies to take to some neighbors we like. The kitchen was a bit of a disaster when we were done, but it was a lot of fun. After the cookies cooled, we got in the car and delivered them, spending a few minutes visiting at each home.

Hiking or Walking

We are fortunate to have a beautiful paved walking trail near our home, so we occasionally take a family night to walk and talk. We can stop along the way to check out trees, little animals and the like. Many areas have such trails; find one close by and head out with your comfortable walking shoes and your family.

Do Joint Activities

One of our favorite memories as a family was when a family with children the same ages as ours called and invited us to a three-family softball game. It was a lot of fun and a time when we could have a little broader experience while still being together. Consider some occasions when you invite another family to share your family night with you.

Consider Craft Projects

We have had some great times making crafts together. We have made bird feeders out of 2 liter pop bottles. We have helped tie a quilt for a humanitarian project. Through projects like this, our children have learned some skills and developed an appreciation for nature, for the needs of others, and for the community.

A Family Production

Give some thoughts to skits, plays and readers' theaters. The children love the make-believe aspects and appreciate being able to role play and work together. Even consider video taping the production for posterity. Several years ago, we made our own "music video" with a CD of a favorite song, some props and costumes and a little creativity.


Family night sounds like a lot of work. Sometimes it is. It requires commitment, careful planning and a focus on building good memories. In a time when many families are feeling fractured and find themselves running in all sorts of directions, family night can make a big difference in building family unity and strengthening relationships.

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