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For Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, Dayna Bickham shares some great tips to stay close as a family.  It’s never too late or too far gone to build relationships–or rebuild them even! Here’s Dayna…

10 ways to stay close as a family
My family was not always close. It was an “us versus them” universe: a cosmic battle between parents and kids. I was a young mom who made lots of mistakes along the way. I thought that meant I would be stuck raising the products of that bad parenting for years to come. But there was hope.

Slowly we made changes that grew us closer as a family, gave my kids room to develop into productive teens, and relieved a mountain of stress from off of our shoulders as parents. Here are ten suggestions to make your family closer. They are all inexpensive and (fairly) easy to do.

1. Take an honest survey.

Ask your kid how you are doing. Make sure you ask both open ended and yes or no questions. Be prepared for whatever they may say in response. For example, I ask my kids things like this: “How do you know Mom/Dad loves you?” or “Can you name a time when I gave you good advice?” or “Am I a good listener?” followed by, “How can I be a better listener?” These are just suggestions, but kids will generally tell you what they need if you know how to first ask and then listen. Don’t bombard them with twenty questions all at once. Make these casual moments. Just listen closely for the answer.

2. Stop parenting from the couch.

I used to sit on the couch giving instructions to my kids from there as if it was a throne and my house was a fiefdom. I established my territory and soon my kids just stayed away altogether. They found their own sanctuaries – their rooms, a friend’s house, or in front of a computer. There was disconnectedness between us. When they weren’t showing up when I bellowed from the couch I started parenting via text. “Cln ur Rm” equaled clean your room and “DYH” meant do your homework. I realize that there are times when communication must come in other forms than face to face, but limit these as much as you can. Once I began entering their space and taking the time to “find” them in the other room our relationship began to grow closer. They also stopped yelling from the other room for me (wonder where they got that?) and that was a pleasant consequence I could live with.

3. Date your kids.

Each child has special interests, hobbies, and quirks. Spend time with each one doing something meaningful to them. Is one kid a science geek? Then go to the Natural History Museum. Is one an artist? Take her to a gallery opening. Does one live, eat, and breathe hockey? Go to a sports shop and check out the latest gear or go watch a local team practice. Not every “date” has to be super expensive or extravagant. Sometimes a trip to the local drive in and an ice cream cone are enough. Taking the time to spend time with them speaks volumes.

4. Eat as a family.

I know everyone has busy schedules. Practices, study dates, work, and other busy events pull at our time. But if we do not give priority to the things that matter then we end up with a life void of matter – otherwise known as emptiness. One meal a week. If the average family eats 3 times a day for seven days that is 21 meal times. Surely at least one of those times can be a coordinated effort to sit around a table together eating at the same time. During Tuesday dinner, Saturday breakfast, or Sunday lunch find time to talk to each other about your day, your plans, projects, or current events. Make it less about the food and more about the togetherness of it all.

5. Have a pizza night.

This is different than eating as a family at a table because first, it can happen less often (once or twice a month makes it routine, but special enough to take time out for) and secondly you don’t have to cook. Win – win. Rent a movie, order the pizza, and just spend some time relaxing together as a family.

6. Create an activities bowl.

This is super easy to do and gives your family ideas for inexpensive (often free) activities. I’ve got a downloadable list of 30 activities to get you started right here! If you’d rather do it yourself, just write activity ideas that are budget friendly down on strips of paper, fold them over and toss them in a bowl. If you are a more scheduled and structured type of household you can pre-assign one activity a week together at the beginning of each month, or if you are more spontaneous you can draw one out every Saturday morning and do whatever it says to do. Some ideas are seasonal, so you can throw those to the side when they are out of season – you can’t go snow sledding in July. (Maybe you Canadians can, but here in Texas, snow is never really an option.)

7. Check in face-to-face once a day.

Face time may be a new feature on your latest gadget, but it isn’t anything new. We all need to know we are seen and feel like we are being heard. Seeing each other face-to-face is one way we do that. If we are constantly ships passing in the proverbial night, then soon our lives become independent from one another and we drift farther apart. This is all about growing closer. So take the time to see your loved one’s face every day.

8. Figure out your kid’s love language.

Love languages are the way we hear or receive love in our lives. Some feel more loved when they are held, some when they are given gifts and others when you wash and fold their socks. There are 5 love languages altogether. This is a concept written by Dr. Gary Chapman and the wisdom in this approach to communication has borne out in my life over and over. You and your kids can take a test here.

9. Hug once a day for eight seconds.

This can be a part of your face time, but I highly recommend it. We hold the things we value close. We wear our favorite earrings, we feel at home in our favorite sweater, and we cozy under our favorite blanket when we feel under the weather. Holding these things makes us feel better. Apply that logic to your kids. Mom’s arms are special. They are where we feel the most loved. Dad’s arms are special too. They are where we feel safe. Our body language changes when we are hugged. We bond when we hug. We relax when we hug. You may not be a touchy-feely person, but every human needs physical touch to thrive. So hug your kids every day.

10. Stop yelling at one another.

I left this for last on purpose. The volume with which we communicate is as important, if not more important, than what we have to say. “I love you” is hard to believe if the rest of the communication you have is several decibels higher than average. I do not care how many times you say it. I used to yell (mostly from the couch) at my kids all the time. We fought constantly. They thought I was a nag and I felt like no one listened to me. There was no easy way to stop yelling. I just had to stop. At first I still wanted to, so I stage whispered through my teeth. My kids say when I did this for the first time it was one of the scariest moments of their lives. We laugh about it today. But it made them have to strain to hear me. Over time I lost the scary talk-through-the-teeth-like-a-crazy-woman look and the volume came down on a regular basis. The kids noticed. It took a few months of consistent effort, but it did work. We are better for it and have grown closer because of it.

You may or may not use all ten of these suggestions, but even small stones thrown into the water eventually make big ripples. You may think of some suggestions I might have missed. So tell me about what does and doesn’t work for your family? Leave your comments below.

Don’t forget to download my Family Activities Ideas!

Dayna BickhamDayna is a writer and speaker. She is also a wife, mother, and part-time missionary. She loves great music, food, and laughing. Above all she loves laughing. Dayna blogs at daynabickham.com. During the summers she leads mission trips around the world. Her passion is teaching people to hear the Lord for themselves and to pursue whatever He says with their whole heart. You can friend her on Facebook and Twitter. Dayna is the author of Chosen for Purpose: Overcoming Giants and Living Your Dreams, available at online retailers everywhere.

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