It's tough to squeeze in special time with your kids when your schedule is moving at warp speed. The solution: super-fun rituals that are designed for families short on time.
Share a Laugh
Every day after school or day care, spend 30 seconds trying to make each another giggle. "Even something as simple as doing a silly dance or making funny faces will help you reduce stress -- and it's an easy and positive way to reconnect after a long day," says Parents adviser Michele Borba, Ed.D.
Start a new custom in your house: Play celebrity chef. Once a week, have your child help you in the kitchen while you plan and serve a meal the way Emeril does. (Even a 3-year-old can sprinkle berries on cereal or choose between peas and carrots for dinner.) "You're teaching your child responsibility, giving him an early lesson in nutrition, and letting him know that his opinions really do matter," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day.
Invent a Theme Song
You don't need to be Adam Sandler to create hilarious musical memories. "Take a nursery rhyme or children's song and customize it to whatever your family is doing," says Jane Kostelc, a child-development specialist at the Parents as Teachers National Center. If dinner's a disaster, for example, sing: "This is the way we burn the burgers, burn the burgers, burn the burgers." You'll turn a stressful moment into a lighthearted one.
Even on the craziest mornings, you can spare ten seconds to come together for a group hug or huddle. Mimi Doe, author of Busy But Balanced, suggests exiting the house with a loud "Go, team!" "Start the day with a sense of unity," she explains. "It certainly sounds a lot better than 'Did you remember your homework?'"
Say a Little Prayer
Whether it's holding hands around the dinner table or kneeling together at bedtime, a moment away from life's little frustrations gives everyone a sense of tranquility and hope. Not really religious? Read inspirational quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. or kid-friendly poems with positive messages by authors like Shel Silverstein.
Star in Your Own Storytime
On a lazy Saturday afternoon, make up short stories starring family members and friends. "This enhances skills such as public speaking, using new vocabulary, and structuring stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end," Dr. Borba says. "It also encourages your child to share her imagination and creativity with you." Record these tall tales; you and your kids will get a kick out of listening to them over and over.
Give a Little
Raising children who care about the needs of others should be a priority. Create a donation jar. On allowance day -- or on special occasions such as birthdays when your children have extra money -- encourage them to drop a few cents into the jar. (Make a habit of depositing your own loose change too.) When the jar fills up, take a vote to decide which charity gets the booty.
Say So Long To Stress
Take a mini mental vacation as a family once a week. Sitting on the floor, close your eyes and take deep breaths for one minute as you let your minds wander. Afterward, talk about what you were thinking during your quiet time.
Pass Around the Praise
Get in the habit of holding a daily "compliment time," when you encourage your kids to say something nice about you, their siblings, even their pets. (And, of course, take a turn doling out kudos as well!) This tradition will help your children make others feel appreciated, and they'll look at their home as one filled with love and encouragement.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
Experts say that fostering relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can have a powerful effect on kids. "It tells your child she's part of a larger family that cares," Dr. Borba says. Toddlers can draw pictures on the back of postcards, and older children can send electronic greeting cards to Grandma and Grandpa.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the September 2004 issue of Parents magazine.