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Make a resolution to improve your family interactions

Date: 1/10/2012

January 9, 2011

WEST SPRINGFIELD — We all make individual resolutions every year: exercise more, eat less. But the child and family experts at Youth Villages urge parents to go further this year by pledging some of their New Year’s resolutions to improve family interactions all year long.

Time typically is the rarest commodity in families’ lives, especially when both parents work full-time jobs. As a result, families can find it hard to make time for family time.

In today’s hectic schedules, children, and particularly teenagers, may see parents like new recruits view their drill sergeants.

“When parents juggle so many responsibilities at once, talking to their children can easily become a set of orders to clean up their room, stop this, do that, don’t do that, etc.,” said Gilpatrick Donahue, a family intervention specialist at Youth Villages Massachusetts in West Springfield, a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping children and their families live successfully. “Family dynamics can change when parents just take a few steps to change them. It’s all about making family fun again and having conversations that renew the family bond.”

You can start changing your family dynamics by making a resolution to spend more quality time with your family in 2012. But, Youth Villages family experts say, a pledge is just step one and to make the pledge become a reality, families will need to schedule family time into the kitchen calendar, day planner or smart phone just like any other activity, responsibility or business meeting.

“It’s crucial to make family time an utmost priority,” Donahue said.

Spending quality time together as a family does not mean you need to spend more money, Donahue said, or change the way you live your life.

Here are some simple steps you can take to help improve your family life in the new year and build lasting memories at the same time:

1. Eat together. Make a resolution to cook and eat more family meals together every week. Studies show that children who participate in regular family meals are less likely to engage in risky behavior. This is especially important for teenagers. Sharing meals is a great way to have positive conversation, enjoy one another’s company and bond as a family. Just stay away from sticky topics and anything else that could create conflict. Dinner time should be a time to enjoy one another’s company. Children can help set and clear the table, and some will enjoy helping prepare the meal.

2. Find a new fun family activity or hobby. Sit down and talk. There’s got to be some family activity everyone can do together. For some families, game nights work well, whether they choose board or video versions. Interactive video games that make you get up and move around the living room give kids and parents a chance to burn a few calories as well. An easy, cost-free and purposeful way to fulfill this resolution is to do family volunteer work. Serve up meals together at a food kitchen, walk dogs or groom at an animal shelter, or mentor a child or teen.

3. Read together. Many parents read to younger children but give up reading together as children get older. Set a time to read together once a week or every night before bedtime. It’s also a great way to wind down. Either take turns reading out loud, listen to a book on tape or have everyone read their own book or magazine.

4. Develop some new family rituals. Homemade pizza or BBQ on Friday night, movie or board game nights on Saturdays, afternoon walks with or without the family dog on Sunday afternoons, etc. Children like and thrive on rituals, and family traditions are wonderful memories to look back on.

5. Try making everyday activities, including chores, fun by making a game or contest out of chores, giving out stickers as rewards or singing a song together while tidying up. Make it a point to have fun together doing everyday things.

6. Set a couple of hours a month or quarter aside for each of your children to spend time alone with one parent. Use this time to do something special together your child wants to do and indulge in some rare one-on-one time.

7. Walk it out. Go for an afternoon family walk in the neighborhood or early evening to see which homes are decorated for the holidays. Return home for hot cocoa and cookies eaten at the dinner table.

8. Be positive! Once a week, use dinner time to have every family member say one positive thing about each family member. It can be as simple as, “I love mom’s cooking” or, “Dad’s tie is cool,” or it can be more involved, such as praising how a family member handled a certain situation. Saying something nice teaches children to give and accept compliments and can dissolve hostile environments creating more harmonious relationships.

9. Make it a New Year’s Day tradition to make resolutions together as a family. Have every family member make a resolution for himself or herself, and encourage your children to help come up with a resolution for the entire family. Write all the resolutions down and save them in a specified spot, so you can find them easily. Next New Year’s Day, get last year’s resolutions out, review them and then come up with a new set for the new year.

10. Be more active together. Spend a couple of hours once a month together doing an outdoor activity — stroll through the city park, play soccer or basketball in the yard, buy a badminton set, teach your children to play volleyball, go sledding, drive to a lake or beach for swimming or walking, take a family bike ride, find interesting places to go for a walk: the river promenade, different parks, down main street, a historic neighborhood or cemetery, a new subdivision, etc. If the weather doesn’t permit outdoor activity, get a gym membership for the whole family and take everyone along for workouts.

There are many other ways to enhance family relationships, but the important thing is that you make a resolution to make more time for family and block time out for specific family activities in your calendar.

“Many people underestimate the positive effects structure and ritual have on children,” Donahue said. “Children thrive when they know what to expect and what is expected of them. Family rituals are fun, and they are something grown children will fondly remember as some of their favorite childhood memories.”

Youth Villages Massachusetts is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children with emotional, behavioral and mental health issues and their families live successfully.

Youth Villages began providing services in New England in 2007. Youth Villages’ Massachusetts offices are located in Woburn, Lawrence, Worcester, Plymouth and Springfield.

Named one of the Top 50 Nonprofits to Work For by Nonprofit Times and Best Companies Group in 2010 and 2011, Youth Villages has been recognized by Harvard Business School and U.S. News & World Report, and was identified by The White House as one of the nation’s most promising results-oriented nonprofit organizations.

For more information about Youth Villages, visit

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