Tag Archive for fun

Leisure, Productivity, & Happiness for Your Family

Leisure…free time spent on enjoyment and relaxation in an unhurried manner. How many of us would like more leisure time? I know I do. But our answer this question may change how much we enjoy leisure time: “When is the best time to enjoy leisure activities?” Many will answer by saying,” After my work is done.” That answer points to a common belief many people in our society hold. Productivity, we believe, is the ultimate goal; time is a resource we need to maximize for productivity and leisure is secondary. (Enjoy Dr. Selin Malkoc’s Tedx Talk for more.) This belief interferes with our enjoyment of personal leisure, family leisure, and even family fun. “So what?” you might ask. Well…

A series of studies completed by researchers at Ohio State University looked at how this belief about productivity and time impacts not only our ability to enjoy leisure but our mental health as well. In one study, 199 students completed a brief questionnaire assessing their beliefs about leisure time as well as measures of how much they enjoyed various leisure activities. Additional questionnaires assessed their levels of happiness, depression, anxiety, and stress. Those who believed productivity as more important than leisure and leisure a wasteful use of time, experienced less enjoyment during leisure activities. They also reported lower levels of happiness and higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. That’s not a great combination for us as individuals or for our families.

In another study, college students came to an office believing they were simply answering surveys for a study.  In the midst of the surveys, they were given a break to watch a short, funny cat video. The actual focus of the study was based on the participants’ response to this short break, a short period of leisure in the midst of work. Those who reported on the surveys that they viewed leisure as secondary to productivity enjoyed the videos less. They were not productive or useful, so they were less enjoyable…even funny, cute cat videos!

Why do I tell you this in a blog about families? Because our families and every person in our families need leisure time.  Individually, leisure time helps us manage stress and supports a positive self-concept. Leisure time reduces anxiety and depression while increasing positive emotions.

In marriage, engaging in leisure time that both you and your spouse enjoy will create greater intimacy. In will lead to a greater knowledge of your spouse, a better friendship, and greater satisfaction with your relationship.

Leisure time allows children to learn and grow. It gives children time to play and interact, learning new skills as varied as negotiating with peers to how far they can safely “push” their physical limits of balance and speed. In fact, we will often see our children rise a “head taller than themselves” during some leisure activities.

Family leisure time provides the opportunity to talk and learn about one another. It creates an environment that nurtures intimacy and support. It helps us grow closer and so creates a safe haven in which to rest.

With all that in mind, don’t you want to spend a little more leisure time with your family? Here are 3 things to keep in mind so your family can enjoy the benefits of leisure time.

  • Put leisure time into your family schedule. One caveat though…don’t make a rigid leisure time schedule. Setting a firm start and end time for leisure often robs it of its fun. It makes it feel like another chore we have to fit in before the next thing on the schedule. In fact, one study showed that a scheduled leisure activity was significantly less enjoyable than an unscheduled or “roughly scheduled” one.  So, “roughly schedule” your leisure activity to start “around” and end “around” or “when we’re done.” Enjoy the free flow of your leisure activity.
  • Do not schedule another activity immediately after your leisure time. Doing so can make your leisure time feel rushed. It can interfere with your ability to truly “be in the moment” of an enjoyable leisure time…which brings us to the next bullet.
  • “Be in the moment” during your leisure time. Don’t think about the next event. And don’t give the leisure time some ulterior motive like “moving us toward the next event,” improving some skill, or “tiring the kids out.” These may all represent secondary benefits. But don’t let those interfere with the pure fun of being in the moment enjoying a fun interaction and time with your family.

The Fantastic Duo of Giving: An Experiment with Toys

Several young couples have told me about the vast number of toys in their home. They have so many toys that some even remain unopened. Their children have grown tired of other toys… now they lay in a corner collecting dust. Stuffed animals that once lined the bed are now stuffed in a closet. Broken Barbie Dolls lay under the bed forgotten. And, of course there are the boxes and wrappings that our children found more fun to play with than the expensive toys the boxes protected! It all makes me wonder: how many toys do our children need?

With this in mind, I propose an experiment. A challenging experiment that you and your child will find rewarding when it is all said and done. It’s an experiment to thin out the toys. Here are the steps involved.

  1. Team up with your child and talk about the virtues of sharing and gratitude. You might also want to pick a nice name for the project, like Team Generosity or The Great Toy Giveaway.
  2. As a team, pick out the toys you will give away to those who have less. You can identify the toys no longer used to give away and choose a couple more to represent an extra level of generosity and caring.
  3. Decide where you want to give the toys to. You might choose the Salvation Army, a toy lending library, or even someone you know. You can also learn about children who might have a need through an area social service agency or church.
  4. Pick a time in which you and your child (The Fantastic Duo of Giving) can deliver the toys to the charity the two of you agreed upon.
  5. Deliver the toys.
  6. Finally, talk about the experience with your child. What, if anything, was difficult? What was easy?  Now that it is finished, how do you both feel?

Not only does this experiment allow you and your child to declutter the toy room, but it also allows you to spend time together as well (and isn’t that what children really want?). As a bonus, your child will likely experience the joy of generosity and gratitude as they complete this process…and that experience may just prompt more great team giveaways. (For more read One Ingredient of Happy Children.)

The Case for Getting Together with Multiple Families

How do we regulate difficult emotions? How do we get through the hard times of life without having a “nervous breakdown”? I’m sure it will be surprised no one to know friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. But researchers at UCLA conducted a study that suggest our friends help us “see the problem” in a new way, even a better way than if we tried to deal with it alone.

In this study, researchers showed 120 participants a series of negative images like sad faces, angry faces, or people living in poverty. Of course, these images brought up negative emotions for the participants. In the first part of this study, participants were instructed to respond in one of three ways: 1) simply allow their natural response to the image to run its course, 2) reinterpret the image or their response in an effort to feel better, or 3) listen to a reinterpretation of the image recorded by a friend who had come with them. Both groups involving reinterpretation (groups 2 and 3) felt better, but those who heard a friend offer a reinterpretation (group 3) felt even better.

It wasn’t just the friend’s voice either. A second part of the study used the act of counting to determine if the mere sound of a friend’s voice would alleviate the negative emotions aroused by the images. One group counted to themselves. A second group listened to a friend count. Listening to a friend count was no more soothing than counting to oneself. Apparently, counting does not help us deal with negative emotions, even if a friend does it. Our friend’s voice does not help us deal with negative emotions in and of itself. No, it’s our friend’s advice and counsel that help us deal with negative emotions. (The voice of your mother, on the other hand, may be the medicine that cures what ails you.)

The takeaway message is that friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. Leaning into our friends increases our ability to manage difficulties. In fact, we can manage difficulties better with friends than we can alone…which brings me to families.

Getting together with other families is a great way to develop friendships. Get together for a picnic or a game night, to worship or simply to share a meal will nurture and broaden your friendships with the other family. Whatever we do when we get together with other families opens the door to building relationships and finding the support we need to navigate the difficulties of life.

I remember my parents getting together our family together with other families to play games. The adults played cards while the children played other games. Friendships developed…and those friendships helped us all through difficult times.

They say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Maybe that sells the village a little short. Perhaps we could more appropriately say, “it takes a village to raise an emotionally healthy family.” Build your village. Enjoy time with other families.

Why Wait?

I had the opportunity to visit my extended family recently. It is always a joy to spend time with them. Because we live 500 miles away, we don’t get to visit as often as we’d like. Nonetheless, my wife and I recently had the opportunity to take my parents “on the journey” to visit our family.

This visit held special meaning as one of my aunts and an uncle passed away since our last visit and, due to the pandemic, we had missed the family gatherings celebrating their lives. So, as you can imaging, pictures and stories occupied much of our time during this visit. We recalled fun times and hard times, joys and struggles. Stories I had never heard confirmed what we already knew… and added a few surprises. We laughed together. On occasion, I saw eyes well up with tears. But, we all learned of a family heritage filled with love, resilience, and joy. Our grandparents’
dream of a family that honored and celebrated one another was affirmed.

As the visit progressed, I realized how much we share stories every time we get together. I remembered the joy of recalling our common history and celebrating the places where our histories diverged. I recognized how much each person has to offer one another because of those places where are stories varied while our common story held us together. And, I realized how important those stories are to our family identity as well as our individual identities.

With all this in mind, I have to ask: Do you take time to share your family stories? It’s a good practice to do so. Don’t wait for someone to pass away. Share your stories now. Our family stories build our family identity. They provide us with hope in times of struggle. They lay a foundation for honor and love while reaching forward to a future built on joy and community. Why wait to share your stories? Start sharing those stories today. Your family will reap the benefits for a lifetime.

Helping Your Child Become Likeable: A Barrel of Fun

Children love to have fun…and having fun is no laughing matter. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Personality (2020) suggests that fun is one of three traits (prosocial behavior, leadership, and fun) shown to predict changes in a child’s “likeability and popularity” between the ages of nine and twelve years. This study, completed in Florida and Colombia, focused on fun. By letting peers nominate who was “likeable” and what made them likable, they discovered that children perceived by others as fun experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them over a two-month period. The perception of fun remained a key factor of “likeability” even after controlling for the influence of prosocial behavior, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression. In other words, fun influenced likability.

Perhaps that’s not too surprising. After all, who doesn’t enjoy being around someone who is fun? But maybe we can learn something important for our families. Instilling a sense of fun into our family life may help our children learn to be fun. We often focus on teaching our children academics, sports, and manners. We teach them to listen and behave appropriately. Sometimes we become so “serious” about their academics, sports, music, and manners that we forget to teach them to have fun. And being fun is no laughing matter. How can we teach our children to have fun?

  • Model having fun. Let them see you engaging in activities and having fun. Even if you engage in a competitive sport, let them see how fun it is.
  • Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at a joke. Laugh at a funny show on TV. Laugh with your children and laugh as a family. Enjoy the moment and laugh. Teach your family to laugh because Laughter is No Laughing Matter for Families.
  • Encourage your children to do their best in their chosen activity. However, never let them lose sight of fun in that activity as well. Those who have fun are the same ones who do their best. Teach them to enjoy playing their sport or their instrument. Teach them to have fun in the activities they choose.
  • Encourage creativity. Whatever creative activities you enjoy—music, storytelling, art, photography, dance—whatever mode you may choose, enjoy creativity. (Discover Your Inner Musician is one way to encourage creativity.)
  • Play games together and make them fun. You can play anything from “Salad Bowl” to badminton. It doesn’t matter what you play. Just play and have fun. After all, it’s all fun and games…until it’s something more.
  • Tell a joke or two…or three or more. Make funny stories and jokes part of your family heritage. (My favorite joke, of course, is The Infamous Dad Joke.)

I’m sure there are more ways to teach your children to have fun. What are ways you encourage your children and your family to have fun? Don’t hold back. Share them below so we can all join in the fun and watch our children reap the benefits of learning to be fun.

A Stay-at-Home Date Night for Every Room

The “stay-at-home” orders are slowly starting to shift as we move from “red” to “yellow” to “green.”  Still, it remains challenging to eat out or go someplace for a date night. Even before the current crisis you may have felt the challenge of going out for a date night due to financial constraints. But, no fear. You can have a date night without even leaving home. In fact, you can have a date night in every room of your house. Here are a few date night ideas for each room.

  • The Dining Room Date. Of course, you could have a dinner date in the dining room. Make it interesting though. Have a candlelight dinner with romantic music playing. Order your food through DoorDash or UberEATS.
  • The Living Room or Family Room Date. Pull out the cards and board games to enjoy a game night date. Or, rent a movie and have a movie date night. Don’t forget the  popcorn, chips, and drinks for game dates or movie dates.
  • The Kitchen Date. The kitchen date involves cooking together. Think about a food you have always wanted to try or a food you really liked when you ate it in a restaurant. It might be a main dish, a dessert, or an appetizer…or one of each. Look up the recipes and have a kitchen date making it. You can even find a cooking class with expert chefs on YouTube to enjoy as a cooking class date night.
  • The Bedroom Date. You can go all kinds of directions for the bedroom date. You could simply enjoy a breakfast-in-bed date. Or, you could enjoy a candlelight-romantic-massage date night. Or, do the breakfast-in-bed date in the morning and the candlelight-romantic-massage date at night. You can use your imagination for other bedroom date ideas.
  • The Back Porch. For the more casual date, enjoy an evening on the porch with a ­just hanging out date night. Simply sit together, cuddle up, and enjoy conversation remember fun times from the past and fun times you look forward to in the future.
  • The Yard Date. Pack a picnic and go into your back yard for a picnic date. Then, lay out the blanket and lay down to watch clouds go by. Or, do it later in the evening and stargaze. Listen the concert of birds and watch the firework of the stars with your spouse. It’s a nature’s concert date night.

If you want to have an even more unique date night, make it a progressive room date night. Order your favorite meal through DoorDash and then start your date in the kitchen while you wait for the food to arrive. In the kitchen, make your favorite appetizer or dessert together. When the food arrives, enjoy a candlelight dinner in the dining room that includes the appetizer you made. Then move to the family room for a movie. Afterward, enjoy your dessert in the living room. By this time, the sun will have set and the stars come out. Lay on your blanket in the back yard to enjoy God’s light show of stars for a time. Finally, end your date in the bedroom with a romantic massage. 

What are your ideas for a date in every room of the house?

The Infamous Dad Joke

I noticed it again this year, did you? Every Father’s Day people start to talk about the “Dad Joke.” (What do you call someone with no body and just a nose?  No-body knows.) Someone will bring up the “Dad Joke” with a groan, moaning about “how corny” they are. Usually everyone begins to talk about the “Dad Joke” in a somewhat belittling manner, as if the “Dad Joke” is inferior to other types of joking. Disparaging remarks circulate as each person recalls the various “Dad Jokes” they heard from their beloved father.  Mostly one-liners. (Our dog used to chase people on a scooter…so we took away his scooter.) All simple puns. (What did the baby corn say to the mama corn? “Where’s popcorn?”) All easily understood after a moment’s thought. (Why did the police go to  the baseball game? Because they heard somebody stole second base!) But, the most ironic thing I notice…everyone starts to smile (You’re probably starting to smile already).  Groans turn to grins. The mood lightens. Laughter starts to break through. Faces light up as smiles grow larger. Before long, everyone is having a good time. Why? All because of the “Dad Joke.” ( You might enjoy the “Dad Joke,” but I would still avoid the sushi if I were you…it’s a little fishy.)

Yes, the “Dad Joke” may be simple to understood…but sometimes the wisest statements are those most easily understood. (Treat others like you want to be treated.) The “Dad Joke” is clean and short…no lectures just right to the punch line. (After winter, the trees are “re-leaved.”)  but, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we had fewer lectures and more clean news to watch.  The “Dad Joke” may be looked down upon by many…but it always lifts other people up by bringing joy and laughter into their lives. The “Dad Joke” brings a smile to people’s faces even while being spoken of disparagingly. And, the “Dad Joke” is ok with that because it knows the other person is more important than him. (BTW—having a 12-inch nose is impossible…at that point it becomes a foot.)   Isn’t that just like a good Dad?  Wise but easily understood… always encouraging and lifting their children up by bringing joy and laughter into their lives…bringing smiles to their families because they believe their family more important than themselves. (Did you know Beethoven got rid of all his chickens because they kept talking about “Bach, Bach, Bach?”)  I don’t know. Maybe I’m reaching here. But I think the “Dad Joke” is great…and so are Dads. And, if you think about it, they both come into existence at the same time. Think about it—when does a joke become a dad joke? When it becomes “apparent.” Give your Dad a little loving today. He needs it; and he deserves it.

Don’t Make Children Prisoners…Set Them Free

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I repeated out loud what I had read. Nope…can’t believe my ears either. But it’s true. Prison inmates in an Indiana maximum security facility are guaranteed two hours of outdoor time every day; but a survey completed in 2016 found three-quarters of children in the UK spend less time than those inmates outside each day. Half of the children didn’t even spend an hour outside each day. Twenty percent (that’s 1 in 5) didn’t even play outside at all on an average day! (More in Children Spend Less Time Outside Than Prison Inmates and Three-Quarters of UK Children Spend Less Time Outdoors Than Prison Inmates—Survey.) I imagine these numbers are very similar in the US.  In fact, a study in 2018 found that children spend an average of 10.6 hours on outdoor play per week (Study: Despite Known Benefits, Kids Are Playing Less). That is only 1.5 hours per day. Our children spend less time outside than prisoners even though outdoor play helps relieve stress, teach safety, and increase immunity (Who Needs a Prescription for Play).

It gets worse. Our children’s free time has decreased in the last 50 years. Take the time between 1981 and 1997. Children spent 18% more time in school, 145% more time doing schoolwork, and 168% more time shopping with parents (Read more in All Work & No Play: Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed). Unstructured play time has decreased even though research suggests children need twice as much unstructured play time as structured time (The Decline of Unstructured Play). Once again, our children have become the prisoners to the structures imposed on them. They miss out on the free, unstructured time that allows them to grow and learn.

One last comparison…our children grow increasingly isolated from supportive, non-parental adults as they progress through school. Rather than have a single teacher for most of the day, our children gain a “revolving cast of characters” in their lives as they switch to a new teacher every hour. This change occurs when our children are going through the massive changes of adolescence and they most need the support of caring adults. (Teen Suicides Are on the Rise.)  In effect, they become less isolated from caring adults and more involved with peers struggling with the same issues and who have the same lack of experience as they do. Our children need us.

The big question I had to ask myself as I contemplated these “prisoner comparisons” is: what can we do to break our children out of this prison? Thankfully, there are ways to do it. 

  • Encourage your children to engage in unstructured, self-directed play with peers. Learn the benefits of such unstructured time in How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.
  • Encourage outdoor play. Outdoor play can accomplish great things. For instance, even risky outdoor play plays a purpose, helping to overcome anxiety…so Let Them Take a Risk.
  • Limit screen time. Limiting screen time can increase levels of happiness and increase our ability to  understand nonverbal communications and recognize emotions in others (See Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness).
  • Provide opportunities for your children to build relationships with trusted adults outside the immediate family. In fact, It Takes a Village to raise a child.

Break your children out of prison…beginning right now!

Bucking the Weaker Trend

According to a study conducted in Chelmsford, Essex, 10-year-olds reported a decline in physical activity between 2008 and 2014. The study’s authors believed this was the result of increased time on computers and greater parental concerns about children safety when engaging in “riskier” activities like climbing trees or wandering from home. 

“So what?” you might ask. “What’s the difference if children show a decrease in physical activity?”  The real concern is the consequences of this decrease in activity. To uncover the potential consequences of decreased activity, the study also looked at changes in height, weight, standing broad jump, sit-ups, handgrip, and arm-hang in 10-year-olds between the years of 1998 and 2014. Over that 16-year period (1998 through 2014), children have grown taller and their BMI has remained the same. However, they have experienced an overall 20% decrease in muscle strength and a 30% decrease in muscle endurance!  Children have become weaker. They have also become less tolerant of discomfort.

There is a way you can buck this trend though, a way to keep your children stronger and more tolerant of simple discomforts. Encourage them to engage in physical play outside. Give them significant household chores to complete. Encourage them to work with you in the yard or in the house. Let them experience the joys of hard work and the reward of completing a hands-on job. When they do these things, they will gain a greater sense of competence than any they can learn through video games. They will grow more aware of their body and be better able to maintain their own physical safety. They will acquire a stronger and healthier self-image than the self-image learned from watching television. They will grow stronger…not only physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well.  Then, maybe in another 16 years we will earn how 10-year-olds have not only grown taller but stronger.

Who Needs a Prescription for Play?

I read an article that began by stating “A new paper in the journal Pediatrics summarizes the evidence for letting kids let loose.”  I thought, “Interesting.” The authors of this article went on to encourage pediatricians to write a “prescription for play” for their youngest patients. Why would they write a “prescription for play”? Because play, intrinsically motivated and unstructured fun, is disappearing from the lives of our children…and with it the benefits of play are disappearing from their lives. What are the benefits of play? Here are five benefits discussed in the article.

  • Play promotes brain development. Specifically, play promotes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is important for learning and growing healthy connections between neurons in the brain. In other words, play primes the brain for learning.
  • Play reduces obesity and diseases associated with obesity. Running, jumping, and climbing helps children build confidence in their physical ability. It helps them learn the limits of their body as well. Knowing the limits helps them remain safe (Let Them Take a Risk). The physical activity of play helps them develop into physically active and healthy adults. In fact, children who got the most outdoor time were 42% less likely to be overweight.
  • Play contributes to improved behavior and reduced stress. Children resolve traumatic events through play, working through the troubling aspects of the trauma so they can learn to “put it behind them” rather than let it intrude into their present lives. Obviously, this will reduce stress in the child’s life. Moreover, a study in which teachers engaged children in one-on-one play led to improved behavior in the children who engaged in play compared to a control group. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children)
  • Play helps families to bond. Play brings people together. It helps us learn to listen and it teaches us to compromise. Play helps us attune to our children emotionally, mentally, and physically. This attunement allows us to help our children learn to manage their emotions in an effective manner. (Make Your Child a Head Taller Than Himself)
  • Play contributes to academic success. Play encourages language development, the exploration of ideas, the ability to delay gratification, and spatial relationships. Each of these skills contribute to academic success. Blocks encourage increased knowledge in putting words, ideas, or architectural materials together. Playing store promotes social skills, math, and negotiation skills. Imaginative play promotes storytelling and self-regulation. Physics, social skills, language development, storytelling, arithmetic, geometry, emotional regulation…it can all be found in play. And children learn it faster and better while playing. (Learn more in Have Fun AND Reduce Childhood Aggression.)

We could expand on this list of the benefits of play, but you get the idea. Let the children play. I’m not a pediatrician, but I am a “doctor” of psychology. So, if you need a prescription, here it is: “Your child is to engage in imaginative, unstructured play for at least one hour per day.” 

Follow that prescription and your children will flourish…and you could find yourself rejoicing in their growth and maturity!

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