Parents naturally want to establish strong relationships with their children. The earlier you start building these bonds with their children and other family members, the stronger they can become over the years. Although this is a serious proposition for all involved, there's no reason why you can't have a good time making it happen. To get you and your family started, try one of these activities to help promote family bonding.
Teaching your children respect for their family members—and others in general—is an important step in forging strong family bonds. To do this, engage in a game of show and tell, says Paul LeBuffe, director at Devereux Center for Resilient Children in Villanova, Pa. To play, let family members take turns sharing a story from their own childhood, a favorite family tradition or their favorite song. Hearing these tales allows other family members to learn more about one another and sets the stage for appreciation.
In an effort to get to understand your family members better, play a game of "Detective," suggests Fran Walfish, Los Angeles-based author of "The Self-Aware Parent." To play, take turns asking one another a personal question, such as, "What makes you most angry?" or "If you could have three wishes, what would you wish for?" "Everyone listens and learns about the others while they are answering their questions," Walfish says. "It's a fantastic way for family members to bond and deepen already established attachments."
To reinforce that all family members must follow the rules (parents, too), LeBuffe suggests a game of "Follow Your Leader." Using 15 index cards, create five "A" cards that contain small items in the home (phone, ball and so on), five "B" cards with body locations (on your head, in your hands) and five "C" cards with actions. Take turns choosing a card from each pile and acting them out as the others follow along.
In families, it's crucial that everyone maintains open communication with one another without feeling self-conscious. Young children need to learn how to express themselves. So gather the family together for "Let's Pretend Charades," which LeBuffe recommends to encourage your child's creative expression. To play, give a family member a picture from a magazine and have him act it out. Don't be afraid to use props. Choose a winner based on who is the best actor or actress.
Family members should develop self-regulation and self-control in their relationships with each other so they can find positive ways to deal with excitement, agitation, nerves and so on. To learn and reinforce these tools, LeBuffe suggests a game of "Still as Statues." To play, have family members move around a room to music. When the music stops, everyone "becomes" a statue. Restart the music to "come alive." Playing this game develops body control and awareness, which promotes self-control.
Another bonding experience Walfish recommends is a family drawing. Start by placing giant white butcher paper on one wall in the living room. "You can either choose one theme for the family to collaborate on or assign each family member a portion of space to draw their own picture," she says. Then each person is given a chance to tell the story of the drawing. "Afterward, sit around the table sipping hot chocolate and facilitate a group discussion about the drawing experience," Walfish says.
All family members need to learn and reinforce responsible behavior, so LeBuffe recommends creating a "responsibility apple tree." Using poster board, draw a large tree; next, draw and cut out apples and label each one with a responsible behavior. Include behaviors that apply to each family member, such as picking up toys, washing dishes and feeding the dog. Take turns posting apples to the tree to show how each family member displays responsible behavior.
Celebrate each individual in your family by creating family flags. Each child and parent draws a flag that represents the family using their footprints and handprints. Personalize using colors, pictures and symbols. Once complete, have each person explain what his or her flag represents about the family. For fun, vote on the best flag for the family. Let the winner choose the movie on the next family movie night.
Two important keys for all families to maintain strong bonds are effective conflict resolution and problem solving. LeBuffe recommends dramatic play to help children learn these tools. Use puppets, stuffed animals or even sock puppets to put on plays based on make-believe or an event in your child's life. Pay attention to how your child reacts to stressful or negative situations so you can assist her in resolving the problem.
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