I spent a weekend camping with a family that has five of the sweetest, happiest children I know—as we sat around the lake, these children happily told stories of past sweet memories. Memories, their mother told me, are the key to such joy. It’s about helping your children plan fun times together and then remember those times.
I asked my friend how she does it—how she helps her children have and remember a happy childhood. Reflection, she said, is how we preserve memories in a family. Here are some tips we put together to help your children have a happy summer they will never forget:
1) Pray together: Pray often in gratitude for the gift of your family and the time you have together this summer, and ask God to bless and guide and sustain you through all of its ups and downs. Then be open and attentive and responsive to the inspiration that comes your way.
2) Start with an attitude of gratitude: Sibling squabbles and jealousy quickly distort even the best of times into bad memories. Teach your children to have an attitude of gratitude, so they can happily experience life instead of always being on the lookout for more. Selfishness is, after all, a distraction. To experience joy, one must be grateful.
3) Try to yell at each other less: Disobedient kids? Yelling might get an immediate response, but we know yelling can be more damaging than physical abuse. The memories of your anger will plant firmly in your child’s mind and tarnish their memory of all the fun and loving things you do together. In the heat of the moment, remind yourself that wrath is one of the seven deadly sins. Instead, try these tricks for no-yell, no-spank discipline, or 10 ways to love your children without words.
4) Think of others: Are there people in your life who could use a hand? What can your family do to lighten their load, bring them cheer, or encourage them along the way? How about people in the greater community? What are some needs your family can help with? Our family likes to bring dinner left-overs to a neighbor who lives alone and make cards or pictures for out-of-town friends and relatives.
5) Plan a big project that the whole family can work on together: For example, clean up a creek, make stuff for a craft fair or art show or plan a vacation or a special family gathering or work on a garden, newspaper, or scrapbook.
6) Plan individual projects or goals: Instead of planning entertainments, think of ways your children can build on their individual gifts and talents. For example, make a nature museum, woodwork, sewing, drawing, or biking. Help kids brainstorm a list of ideas and help them with what they need so they can work on this dream of theirs. It is really interesting to hear the dreams of children, and it creates a special bond when a parent or older sibling can forge these paths together.
7) Write letters: There are so many reasons for writing letters: to greet, to tell, to ask, to apologize, or to thank. Think of people you could thank for something, even something small!
8) Take notice of big or little things that happen each day: You can learn big things from even little experiences! Talk about the little things with each other.
9) Tell stories: Around the table, in the car, on a walk, before bed, really any time at all. Encourage family members to tell stories of their experiences and listen attentively. Also share stories from the past, especially ones that will give encouragement to family members.
10) Write down family stories: Start small. Use drawings, cartoons, poems, or prose. For starters, have each member of the family write one story he or she remembers, and help the little ones. Write, collect, and share these stories from time to time.
11) Try “Happy, sad, funny”: Before bed have each family member tell one thing that they experienced that day that was happy, one thing that was sad, and one thing that was funny. This is something that especially young children enjoy, and it helps remind them of their day and helps them be reflective about it. Also, it brings the family together and helps build understanding between each of the members of the family.
12) Encourage journaling: Get everyone a book. Youngers can dictate to parents or older siblings. Writing helps solidify memories and helps us appreciate aspects of the experience that may have otherwise been overlooked. Writing also helps us be more reflective, and then our experiences take on more depth.
13) Make small scrapbooks: Keep it simple. You don’t need a lot of stuff. Everyone in the family can make a little summer scrapbook of their own or just one together with little mementos, pictures, thoughts, etc. which can be shared with the whole family at the end of the summer.
14) Don’t overbook summer! Busyness is a disease of our time. It robs us of our experiences, our memories, our joy, and our opportunities to learn. This is a tricky obstacle because it is the air we breathe. But perhaps we can filter out this air, with God’s help, and live better. It all comes back to prayer and gratitude. Reach for what God is calling you to, don’t try to reach for everything!
Sincere thanks to my friend Julie Hoijarvi and her beautiful family, for all their sweet memories, and all those yet to come.
Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a mother of five young children. Connect with Dr. Berchelmann at: KathleenBerchelmannMD.com