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Back to School and Family Time

Tips for parents to set aside designated family time when kids go back to school.

When kids return to school, life gets a little crazier for everyone. Suddenly, families are juggling homework, extracurricular activities, school functions, and just generally spending less time at home. When children go back to school, it is important to set aside designated family time.

For parents with joint custody, this can be especially helpful

If your child is part of two separate family units, time as a family can become even more scarce. It is beneficial to set aside time for your child to spend with both your family unit, and your co-parent's family unit. You can do this by designating time for calls or video chats between your child and co-parent.
This can also help prevent potential conflicts between family units. If each family sets aside time to spend together, as well as time for the child to spend with the other parent, issues over who is spending time with who, when can be avoided.

There are several simple ways to set aside family time each day

It is important to make family time a part of everyday life. Using normal activities to facilitate family time is a great way to make your child want to be involved. Start by trying some of these tips:
  • Set a family dinner time. Who doesn’t love a good family cooked meal? This a great way to encourage family members to sit down, put their phones away, and spend time together without adding a lot of pressure.
  • Car rides. If you are driving your child to and from school, extracurriculars, or events, consider making this a phone free zone. Encourage your child to put away electronics to instead spend time talking with you or siblings.
  • Get moving! Consider setting aside some time each week to go on a walk or bike ride as a family unit. This will give everyone some exercise and fresh air, while facilitating time with each other.
  • Family nights. It may take a little more cajoling for some, but try enticing your family to spend time together by planning a family night. This can be something as simple as playing some board games or cooking a fun meal together.  
  • Participate in other family member’s hobbies. Do your children like to swim, read, dance, or play baseball? Show them you are interested in their hobbies by making time to do the activities they enjoy as a family.
If your child is a part of two family units, try discussing your plans with your co-parent. It can be helpful for both family units to practice similar routines.
It is also beneficial for your co-parent to know when your designated family time is taking place. This can help alleviate potential communication conflicts if your co-parent is trying to reach your child during the designated time.

Communication is key to meaningful family time

Just because you set aside time as a family unit does not mean your child will want to talk. Some children have a tough time opening up to other family members, even when a conscious effort to communicate is made.
In an article called “Communicating effectively with children,” Human Development and Family Science Specialist, Sarah Traub, gives this advice to facilitate communication with children at various ages: 

Preschoolers (3 to 6 years old)

  • Ask preschoolers questions about past events; probe for details and provide new words to enhance description of experiences. (e.g., "Who did you play with today? What did you do together?") 
  • Encourage preschoolers to talk about their feelings — both positive and negative — and discuss the possible causes for those emotions.

School-Age (6 to 12 years old)

  • Keep up with school-age children's activities, likes, dislikes and peer relationships by talking to them. Peers are important at this stage, and adults can keep informed about their children's relationships by talking regularly with children. 
  • Help school-age children set goals and solve problems ("If you have to go to Girl Scouts this afternoon, let's talk about when you can do your homework.”) Take time to discuss strategies and solutions, and have the child talk about possible outcomes. 
  • Encourage children to talk about their feelings and the possible reasons for their emotions. 

Adolescents (12 to 18 years old)

  • Be sensitive and responsive to the adolescent experience. Each adolescent is going through major social and physical changes; practice putting yourself in their place when you find yourself disagreeing or growing impatient. 
  • ​Use conversation as an opportunity to keep up with adolescent activities and relationships. Stay interested, and gently ask questions and seek explanations for their behavior. 
  • Although adolescents strive for independence and separation from the family, you can best maintain the relationship by providing a balance between expecting personal responsibility from them and offering consistent support. 
  • Be flexible. Seek to understand the adolescent perspective first before trying to be understood yourself. Maintaining the adult-child relationship is perhaps the most helpful thing you can do to support the adolescent through these years.
  • Recognize that they are developing ideas that might differ from your own. Unless these ideas place the adolescent in danger of harm to self or others, accept their beliefs as an example of their developing individuality.

Setting aside family time is crucial to forming strong family bonds

Designating family time and working to facilitate effective communication can be instrumental in forming healthy relationships with your children. These practices can help you maintain strong bonds with your family unit throughout the school year.
Parents with joint custody should discuss family time plans and consider setting similar structures. TalkingParents offers several features that can help you and your co-parent coordinate designated family time.

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