It has become an annual tradition to write a version of this letter at this time each year. It still feels pertinent, so I have updated it and hope you will once again find it thought-provoking.
As 2019 winds down and the new year is close at hand, it’s time to think about how we spend our family time. I’d like to suggest starting off 2020 with a “slow down the family” resolution. For so many of us, our children’s lives are highly structured; there are sports, music lessons, after-school classes, and the like. It’s hard to imagine doing less, and we worry that we’ll be shortchanging our kids if we do.
A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics titled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Parent-Child Bonds,” suggested that children who have the opportunity for unstructured play time are more able to problem solve, reflect, and become more resilient and creative human beings.
I would like to suggest that you think about the following ways to free up time for your children and your families:
- Reduce the number of structured activities. Consider the policy of one activity per child. For example, your child can have the opportunity to take swimming lessons, and piano lessons, and play soccer, but not all at the same time. This also allows your child to practice prioritizing and decision-making.
- Schedule your free time. Choose one or two days a week when you consciously don’t make play dates, or plan structured activities. Mark your free time on your calendar just like you do other events.
- Schedule family time and mark that on your calendar as well. When my children were young, we went out for breakfast together every Sunday morning. For other families, hanging out in pajamas on the weekend and eating pancakes is a family tradition that is honored by everyone. The important thing is to own this family time and not let anything else get in its way.
- Rethink the family calendar. Take a look at the activities of everyone in your family. Think about how you spend your time. Discuss what things are important, and what you might want to let go. Include your children in this conversation as a way of helping them learn about what your family values.
Remember that children are young for such a short time. Allow time for them to just “hang out” and explore. Give them opportunities to splash in the puddles, make mud pies, and skip stones. Make time to eat dinner with your family. Studies have shown consistently that children who regularly eat dinner with their parents get better grades, have larger vocabularies, and are less likely to engage in risky behavior.
When you spend a little time clearing the family calendar, you will make more time for spontaneous family fun. What a great way to start the new year!