By Dr. Goh Chee Leong, Psychologist, HELP University & Director of HELP International School
PhD in Psychology (University of Otago, New Zealand)
Having the Right Perspective
I think enjoyment starts with having the right perspective of our family lives. Rather than seeing our family as just another chore, another responsibility, another list of things to do; we should see these years as precious opportunities to really celebrate life together with the ones we love.
One truth I’m convinced of is this; in spite of all the challenges, worries, stressors, anxieties and frustrations that come with parenting, most of us are going to really miss all the fun times we enjoyed with our children as they grow up. The time we have with them is really so limited. The years pass by so quickly and before we know it our kids are all grown up. That’s why we should savour and treasure every minute we have with our children.
A Family That Laughs Together ….
Having a good sense of humor helps lighten the mood during family time. While there are times to be serious, there are certainly times to be funny and light hearted. It is healthy to laugh at ourselves once in a while, especially when we’ve had a stressful day. Laughter really is the best medicine. In fact, the great Mahatma Gandhi once said “If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I would have committed suicide a long time ago.”
Having said that, it is important to practice healthy humour that does not humiliate, degrade or embarrass our children or any member of the family when we are with them. It is alright to laugh WITH one another, but not to laugh AT one another. Humour is about having a good time together but not at the expense of someone else.
Once in a while it’s nice to surprise the family with something they all enjoy. For example, a surprise holiday. I remember the most exciting times when my siblings and I were growing up was being fetched from school by our parents on a Friday afternoon and being told that instead of going home, we were going for a weekend holiday somewhere. There is a real sense of adventure and anticipation when a family embarks on such a journey together.
On a smaller scale, you could surprise the family with a family outing during the weekend. Day expeditions to the park, the zoo, the mall, the waterfalls or even the amusement park are all welcome diversions for the whole family.
Exploring New Horizons
It is always exciting to try new things or to visit new places. Parents can encourage this spirit of adventure in the family by making it a part of the family culture to regularly try new things.
The Wong family learns about a new country every month by having a cultural dinner where they eat the food of a particular country, listen to their music and even try to dress like them.
“We had a Turkish dinner the other night at the house”, explains Mr. Wong. “The children helped decorate the house with Turkish designs and they helped us prepare some Turkish dishes based on recipes my son downloaded from the Internet.”
Mr. and Mrs. Davids make it a point to visit a new place on the first weekend of every month with their children. “Last month, we visited the Bird Park, which was my daughter’s choice. Next month my son wants to swim in the waterfalls, so we have chosen to go to the one near Klang Gates. The idea is to let the children decide on something new and fun that they want to do.”
Both, the Wong and Davids family, showcase the importance of having children play an active role in deciding what to do and in carrying out family activities. I’ve always advocated the importance of children-initiated activities because they create a family culture that encourages the child to be proactive and to try new things without the fear of failure.
Some of the most exciting games families can play don’t cost any money at all. They just require a vivid imagination and some resourcefulness. Making tents in the living room using bed-sheets and furniture, building castles with pillows and chairs; these are simple games that young children love because they engage their imagination.
I love the book by celebrated Malaysian cartoonist Lat that illustrates all the games he used to play as a child when he was growing up in the kampung. My five-year-old daughter loves that book. She can spend a long time just flipping through the illustrations because the games fascinate her. This reminds me of what our children’s inventiveness and imagination can achieve.
I think parents should relearn the simple art of playing games. Most of us played dozens of games when we were growing up; be it skipping, catch, or playing with marbles or bottle caps. They involved skills, intelligence and planning, but most of all they were incredibly fun. We should pass these games down to the next generation.
My daughter loves inventing mini-games that she makes the rest of the family participate in. She uses simple household objects like pencils and paper, books and balls, slippers and socks as well as straws and cups. With these items, she thinks of new, fun challenges all the time. When we were growing up, we used to call these tele-matches, or creative games. I think it is wonderful when children are allowed to create new games. Parents should be sporting enough to play along and encourage this sense of imagination.
Families need to enjoy being together. In the end though, all it takes is for us to set aside time and put aside all our work and worries, so that we can be free to really enjoy ourselves with the people we love. Joy is not something that can be manufactured using some formula. Thus, it is important that fun activities are not ‘regimented’. In other words, you can’t force everyone to have fun according to some timetable.
All of us have our own way of having fun. The important thing is that we find ways to have fun with our kids while the opportunities are still there. After all, parenting is a once in a lifetime journey to behold.