The family that plays together, stays together

An important part of your family’s health and happiness is making time to have fun together. Families who make time to have fun together report feeling closer, more satisfied, and more mentally healthy. Families who engage in many types of quality time (as opposed to just one) are closer and more adaptable too. Even if the time you have together is limited—as is often the case for military families—the excitement leading up to and including family events can make memories that last a lifetime. Family time also builds connections that help withstand separation during deployment or other duty assignments.

Make family time fun

Family fun time comes in many forms, including ordinary “core” activities and get-togethers, such as family dinners and game nights; and special occasions, such as vacations and birthday parties. Although patterns of family time shift as children get older and develop their own social lives, making time for one another is always important.

Core family activities are generally low-cost, accessible, regularly occurring, and often home-based. These types of activities help create stability and structure, and they facilitate bonding and closeness. Core activities are particularly important for the home-front parent to focus on while the other parent is deployed because they create a sense of consistency. See how many of the following activities are already on your family’s list of things you do together—and add in others to boost the fun factor:

  • Play cards or board games.
  • Spend time outside—in the yard, gardening, or walking around the neighborhood.
  • Eat dinner as a family regularly—have a family pizza or taco night, or go out to eat together.
  • Head to a nearby park or your local pool.
  • Try an art or crafts project together.
  • Hold regular family meetings to plan your next adventures, discuss problems, and keep the lines of communication open.
  • Just talk! Play “would you rather?” or ask about favorite (and least favorite) moments of the day or week. For teens, you might find group texts or chats work well too.

Special family activities are new or different experiences for you and your children that teach new skills, encourage trying new things, and present opportunities for family problem solving. Special family time is important for encouraging family flexibility and adaptability. Many parents find these types of activities create long-lasting memories and even help prepare their kids with life skills for the future.

  • Take a family vacation, even if you just visit a nearby city or town.
  • Try camping, fishing, or hiking.
  • Celebrate events such as birthdays, homecomings, and holidays.
  • Go to a theme park, concert, or sporting event.
  • Find an opportunity to volunteer together and give back to your local community.

If a member of your family is deployed, you should still schedule family fun time. It’s a good way for home-front spouses and their kids to cope with the absence of their deployed family member. There are even family activities a out-of-town Warfighter can take part in despite the physical separation. Choose a book or movie for everyone to read or watch, then talk about it together over the phone or video chat. Family time also might be spent making things to send to your deployed Military Service Member. You can document your fun time with photos or videos you can send too.

Resources

Ashbourne, L. M., & Daly, K. J. (2012). Changing patterns of family time in adolescence: Parents’ and teens’ reflections. Time & Society, 21(3), 308–329. doi:10.1177/0961463x10387689

Ginsburg, K. R. (2007). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182–191. doi:10.1542/peds.2006-2697

Haddock, S. A., Zimmerman, T. S., Ziemba, S. J., & Curent, L. R. (2001). Ten adaptive strategies for family and work balance: Advice from successful families. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 27(4), 445–458. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2001.tb00339.x

Werner, T. L., & Shannon, C. S. (2013). Doing more with less: Women's leisure during their partners’ military deployment. Leisure Sciences, 35(1), 63–80. doi:10.1080/01490400.2013.739897

Zabriskie, R. B., & McCormick, B. P. (2017). Parent and child perspectives of family leisure involvement and satisfaction with family life. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(2), 163–189. doi:10.1080/00222216.2003.11949989