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Extending Family Time Past the Holidays


By Elizabeth Philyaw, LCSW, Agape Counseling Ltd.

For many people, one of the things they like most about the holidays is the time spent with their family. Family traditions like shopping, baking, and decorating are natural and easy ways to spend quality time together. The long winter break from school allows for family meals that can be a bit more leisurely without the prospect of homework due the next day. Let’s think about how to extend family time so that it is a regular part of daily life all year long. It takes effort and planning and won’t always turn out the way you expect, but it is possible and the rewards are enormous.

So, how to do family time? It will be different for every family. Following are some general guidelines to get you thinking. First of all, for family time to work, you have to plan the time. It won’t just happen. For the whole family, try starting with once a week. If this is too much, try every other week. Families with young children will need more family time than families with teens. Try to give each parent time alone with each child once a month or so. In the midst of this, don’t forget the importance of “date nights” for parents and time alone where you can focus on your relationship with each other.

Lead by example. Put all electronics away. If you don’t want your kids checking their phones during family time, don’t check yours. You can have a special container that all electronics go in during family time. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. This will lead to good conversation and your kids feeling like they can open up more to you. Be supportive and nonjudgmental. Use this time to show your support and not to tell them about all of the decisions they are making that you don’t agree with. Be present in the conversation and show you really care. Don’t spend your time thinking about what you need to buy at the grocery store or what you would rather be doing. Try to find common ground and common interests. This also makes conversation flow more naturally.

When figuring out what you are going to do while you spend time together, start with common interests. If you all enjoy board games, get out a board game. If your kids have a lot of rivalry but you all enjoy games a lot, try doing a puzzle or playing cooperative games. If you all enjoy the same sport, go and watch a game. You can also go as a family to watch one child’s game or activity. If you want your child to spend more time outdoors, plan outdoor family time such as hiking or going on a picnic.

If you struggle to find interests common to the entire family, that’s okay. Allow each person to write down several ideas on different pieces of paper and put them in a jar. Then allow one person to pull out the piece of paper and do what it says. Continue this until all the ideas have been used and reevaluate to see if there were things that the entire family enjoyed more than others. You can also rotate who gets to pick what to do for family time each time.

One of the most common ways to spend time together as a family is with a family meal. You can plan one family meal a week — Sundays are a common day. Some families will find they are able to do more than one family meal a week. If you are busy every evening, try having breakfast together. You can include the whole family in planning the meal, budgeting for the groceries, buying the groceries, cooking, and cleaning up. You can give each person a different job and use it as a teaching time.

You may get resistance from some family members. If it is from your children, give them options such as “If you want to go to your friend’s house today, you need to spend time with the family first.” If you have a teen who slams the door and refuses to come out for family time, don’t punish them for this or fight them. Let them stay in their room and continue to have family time without them. Over time, they will hear from the other members of the family what they are missing and likely want to join in. Family time won’t be perfect — it may rain in the middle of a picnic, or your kids may fight. That’s just part of family time, and it’s okay. It still forms great memories and allows you to lead by example and teach your children your values in a meaningful way.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Agape Counseling at 309-663-2229. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff committed to a therapeutic process which ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway, (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit them online at