Did you know that more than half of Americans plan to travel for Labor Day in search of family relationship building activities?
Being a parent of a large family, and probably like you, having had a crazy busy summer, adding more travel to our schedule doesn’t really feel like what we need. But we do still want to make the most of it. So here are 5 easy ways to build stronger family relationships this Labor Day.
These are not new ideas. Rather a mental health explanation for why age old practices have worked for generations. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and building stronger family relationships is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our mental health.
What are the activities to strengthen family relationships?
1. Water – family relationship building activities
Lakes, pools, sprinklers, splash pads, it doesn’t seem to matter. Kids love water, especially when their parents play with them in the water.
All too often today pools are filled with kids whose parents are stuck on the sidelines staring at their screens. The kids have all the fun. The parents worry and stress more about work, status, and digital distractions.
I know it’s asking a lot, but don’t even bring your phone to the water activity. Not even to take pictures. Just connect with your child as they smile, splash and are filled with the amusement of aquatics. Your face to face shared smiles will bond your child to you and help create long lasting connection.
Zion, Yellowstone, Smoky Mountains…Ehh. Millions of people will be there, but what do your kids want? They want you!
After a week-long trip to a popular campground with incredible scenery and wildlife, I asked my kids what their favorite part was. Their response was, they loved the spooky bedtime story I told as we stared at the starry sky in our sleeping bags.
Kids don’t need crowds, they need connection. No matter what age your kids are, they are searching for connection. The world promises it through the counterfeit of computers. But you can build deep meaningful relationships with them with the help of a little “landscape.”
Stars, campfires, trails, sticks, dirt and yes even bugs are what help us become connected with our environment and with each other. And the best part is you don’t have to travel far for these experiences. Some of our best camping memories came right from sleeping out in our own backyard.
3. Hiking – family relationship building activities
I recently saw an advertisement in a magazine I thought was for the Boy Scouts of America. A picture of a few teenage boys walking down a mountain trail with an adult leader made me reflect on many opportunities I’ve had just like that. Looking closer I found that it was actually an ad for a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens.
I was enlightened by a ray of reasoning. I can either take my kids hiking when they are young to help them learn the invaluable laws of nature, or they will eventually learn them in less favorable circumstances.
The wise old proverb “Ponder the path of thy feet” in essence is, the truths of the trail teach us valuable lessons in life about choices, consequences, obedience, perseverance, hope and resilience. As a family on a hiking trail, we all learn that together and grow closer because of our common understanding of life.
I recently learned of a musical phenomenon that happens when we sing together. We not only synchronize our voices, but even our heartbeats align. No wonder we love to gather around a campfire and a guitar to sing songs both old and new.
Music is one of the most neurologically stimulating activities we engage in. It requires synapse from both right and left sides of the brain. Listening to music is enlivening. But making the music, either with our voices, or with percussion and instruments, puts us on the same brain wavelength with each other and strengthens family relationships.
All can participate whether by voice, by playing an instrument, or simply tapping along to the rhythm. Whatever your Labor Day plans may be, plan ahead. Find ways to connect with music in your family relationship building activities
5. Board/Card games – family relationship building activities
One of my most fond memories from childhood with my dad is when we were stuck in a small cabin one rainy weekend with nothing more than a deck of cards. We played hearts, speed and war for hours on end, laughing and joking in ways that only card games can inspire.
It is a physiological fact that when we interact with each other face to face, eye to eye, arm in arm, our bodies produce the long lasting happy hormone called Oxytocin that helps us feel fulfilled and connected.
It is also true that when we interact with other humans through a screen that our bodies don’t produce oxytocin, but rather they produce the short term addictive reward hormone called Dopamine. That explains why we can text someone all day and still feel anxious and unsatisfied in the end.
Our bodies crave oxytocin, that is what we often refer to as the feeling of connection. Our phones promise “connection,” but truthfully are only built to exploit the dopamine neural feedback loop.
So here’s a challenge for you this Labor Day in your family relationship building activities, put down the devices, pick up a board/card game and spend a couple hours strengthening family relationships that will be one of your kid’s favorite childhood memories with you.