Q: Do you have any suggestions for family fun activities with tweens and teens? Vacation ideas? Day trips?
A: The wonderful thing about doing things together as a family is that so many different things can be fun and bonding experiences. Many people look back at their own childhood and remember fondly not just the big events but also the seemingly mundane ones, such as doing the dishes together or the fun they had in the long car rides getting to that special vacation. So really, in many situations, it is not so much the destination as it is the experience.
I recommend that parents first try to determine what it is that a kid enjoys and is interested in, because every kid is different (and, of course, some teens seem to have cornered the market on “different”); if the destination is something that the kids like, your odds of their having a good time will obviously increase. Some kids will be able to tell you specifically where they would like to go, but sometimes a parent will need to just figure it out based upon what they know about the child. Try also to get input you’re your kids about some of the logistics of the trip (for example, sleeping arrangements) when possible. Parents should also try to plan things in a way in which problems are avoided and there is the greatest chance of success. So, for example, a parent would not want to plan a big trip on the same day as a child’s big baseball game. Additionally, a parent should think carefully and try to anticipate and avoid little problems. For example, bickering in the car as a result of the boredom of the long drive, for example, can be avoided by having enough breaks in the drive and by making sure that the kids have things to do ( while many parents find that letting the kids watch a DVD or play video games or listen to music can keep them happy, I feel that this is missing out on some of the wonderful interactions that can occur during a trip, so I suggest that a limit be set on those activities).
But bonding experiences are not just during trips and outings: some of the best and warmest bonding happens during everyday life. It is often helpful for a parent to set aside a special individual time on a regular basis with each child. I know that this is particularly difficult in the busy life of a parent, but that is exactly the point: the fact that you do do it sends a very clear message about how important the child is to you. During this “special time” it is recommended that the parent gives no commands or criticisms and ask no questions, but instead just spends time with the child doing an activity that he enjoys, listening to what the child says, praising him, and showing nonverbal signs of affection such as smiling (this all sounds simple but is very hard to do; it will generally require some practice). This will change the tenor of the interaction from the typical one of his life – one in which people are constantly telling him what to do, correcting him, and questioning him – to one in which he and his concerns and feelings are at the forefront, which should help convey the message of how special the child is to the parent.