Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. In this piece, written exclusively for Everton Academy, Amy offers guidance on how to make the most of your time together as a family and suggests strategies to connect where and when you can.
Making the Most of Family Time
By Amy Alamar
Given the abundance of daily activities, challenges and responsibilities families face, it’s understandable that the time you and your son have together may be quite limited. Therefore, it’s important to consider how you can maximize the time you do have. Dedicated family time can make a significant difference in your relationship with your children. Ideally aim for five times a week, understanding that it’s not always achievable. Researchers have suggested that something as easy as regular meals together help support healthy development of kids and families. But, if gathering nightly for a family dinner isn’t practical, there are many other options to consider. Sometimes it just requires a little creativity. First, find a few minutes to sit down with your child(ren) and let them know how important it is to you that the family spend time together. They may even have some terrific ideas about where and when this can happen. Once you’ve got the time, spend it wisely.
Find time to talk! Conversation is the thread that will hold your family unit together and keep it strong. It doesn’t really matter when and where you talk, but it’s important to keep the lines of communication open at all times. If it’s a struggle to find the time because you’re busy or if your son takes a while to warm up to conversation, create a time that’s designated as your dedicated “talk-time.” It can be during the drive to school or training, before bedtime when he wants to stay up a little late, first thing in the morning, over a meal, or during a special outing. Once you’ve identified a time be sure you engage in conversation. And while his social interaction with others and time for himself is important, when you are together, try to maximize the interaction without overdoing it. Here are a few tips to keeping the conversation going:
1. Making time to talk: Create a regular talk time and try your best to stick to it. If you have a specific concern or your child has brought up something serious or challenging, that can be the topic for the day.
2. All topics are fair game: Make sure your son knows he can talk about anything with you. And, when it’s uncomfortable, just acknowledge it. You can say something like, “Honestly, this is a little awkward for me to talk about too.” This approach allows a little laugh and teaches your son that you don’t have to ignore a topic just because it’s hard to talk about. In fact, it’s important enough to work through the discomfort.
3. Start the conversation: You don’t always have to have a question handy - sometimes you can share too. Show interest in his social life and in his training, but leave the conversation open so as not to be too nosy. Here are some conversation starters to consider if you’re struggling to find the words:
● “Anything on your mind?”
● “That sounds like an exciting (or embarrassing, or disappointing) situation - can I help you think through next steps?”
● “How are you feeling about _______ (fill-in-the-blank)?”
● “You really wanted that (position, goal, ____) - I can imagine you’re angry (frustrated, disappointed).”
● “You seem distracted - is anything going on?”
● “How is _________ (fill-in-the-blank with a friend’s name)?”
● Start by sharing something personal: “So something funny (or frustrating, sad, or annoying) happened to me today….”
4. Validate his feelings: As an elite player, your son may be experiencing difficulties with all the attention he’s getting and the expectations placed upon him. Discuss this openly and make sure he knows that you support him and understand his concerns. Also, acknowledging when your child is hurt, angry, frustrated, elated, or even spiteful does not mean that you approve of this behavior but merely shows him that you are trying to understand and appreciate what he is going through.
5. Stress the importance of family: Your son must understand that he is an important part of the family, with chores and responsibilities that do not disappear because of his larger commitment to the club. There may be other siblings in the home that are not dedicated to a sport or hobby, and they deserve the same attention he’s getting. It’s important to keep your elite player’s ego in check while also letting him know that you’re proud of his achievements. For families with multiple children, it can often feel impossible to treat them equally. You’ve committed to football, and that includes new social aspects for you, which will take time and effort. So you should consider how you could meet your other child(ren)’s needs. Perhaps there are extended family members, friends or neighbors that can lend support. Talk to your player and his siblings to come up with a plan that works for your family and find out where your children need the most support. Those should be addressed first.
6. Listen, and don’t try to fix: It is a natural instinct to want to “fix” the problems your son might be facing. However, it can be far more effective to simply listen and convey a sense of genuine understanding. If your natural instinct is to jump in and criticize, try to restrain yourself. You can’t help but judge, that’s a natural reaction, but you should try not to show or voice it. Constant criticism encourages your son to focus on his faults rather than discover solutions to his problems. Criticisms of your child, of his decisions, or of his friends often lead to kids shutting down. Try to listen and ask questions before offering advice and judgment.
7. Grab a bite to eat: If dinner turns out to be your regular time together, feel free to go easy on yourself and plan it out ahead, when possible, so you can truly sit down together. Consider making meals ahead, ordering out, or scheduling prepared meals for delivery. And if you simply cannot make dinner work, try breakfast, or a weekend lunch. There’s no magic to the specific meal, just to the time you have together.
8. On the road again: If you have commuting time together, make this the moment for connecting. Carve out a few minutes at the beginning and end of the ride to allow your son time to de-stress. This might include checking his phone or talking with friends, listening to music, or even napping. Don’t be insulted that the minute he gets in the car he doesn’t want to share his deepest and innermost feelings. Allow for silence and enjoy the comfort in being together and taking some time to breathe. And when you do engage in conversation, this can be an ideal spot for those more difficult topics because you don’t have to make eye contact.
9. Walking and talking: Your player likely gets lots of physical fitness in his training, but maybe he can enjoy some added gentle exerise with you. Walks, yoga, and other physical activities are a great way to spend time with tweens and teens because it allows them to relax and unwind. As a result, everyone’s endorphins kick in which help elevate the mood (which can be a little tricky with adolescents). For those of you who simply don’t have the energy at the end of the day, consider waking up just 20 minutes earlier and/or stretching together before bed.
10. Taking a break with the family: In this day and age we often tend to over schedule our children and ourselves, even when it comes to vacationing. Consider taking a break together without spending a lot of money or time traveling. Stay home for a change. Sleep in, eat out, set up a tent in the back garden. The possibilities are limitless and can be great fun. It’s not about taking an expensive trip. It’s about spending time together.
Finally, It’s important to talk about football – this is, after all, a huge focus of your son’s life and clearly your family has signed on. You must address the topic when decisions need to be made or when your son is processing information about his progress. However, it’s ok to set a timer on football conversation (literally if need be). You’re already getting him to and from training, possibly adapting to his academic and extracurricular schedule, which already impacts everyone, so don’t allow football to control your family. Acknowledge it’s a priority and commitment. You can discuss what needs discussing, and then change the topic. It’s important to your son, to you, and to your family that your life is about more than football.