With today’s busy lifestyles, how can families find time to be together as a unit? Hamlet Smith, a therapist with Life Strategies and a father of eight, shared some of his insights.

“Playing together as a family can build the emotional strength of children,” Smith said.

“Whoever spends the most time with your child likely has the greatest impact on their life. We can all remember people who took the time to just be with us in our lives. It has a lasting impact — for better or worse.”

Play is a time when parents can model communication skills and character traits such as honesty and integrity, he said.

“You may notice your child’s temptation to cheat. If playing fairly is going to have a negative consequence to him, what is his or her response? Play time at home also provides a less threatening environment in which the child can learn these skills and for the parent to teach them,” Smith said.

Teaching these values at home can prevent some embarrassing public displays of parent-child conflict, he added.

“ Wal-Mart is a pretty embarrassing place to have to correct your child’s tantrum. If you develop good communication at home, and children know their limits, it makes for a much easier way to deal with problems that do come up when you’re in a public place. You can resolve the situation in a more calm, direct way without making a scene,” Smith said.

Games also teach children about reversals of fortune. “The child who starts out ahead, may not end ahead. Life is so much like that. As a wise man once said, ‘The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.’ Games provide a great opportunity to teach children how to deal with life’s ups and downs.”

Children can also learn valuable lessons about humility, Smith said.

“Just because you are the oldest and smartest child doesn’t mean you will always win,” Smith said. “ You can give children a perspective on how to lose and win graciously.”

Interaction through games can sometimes be more effective than giving a child a straight lecture, he said.

“Lectures are good, especially if they are short, but how many of us have been in a class where the instructor keeps saying the same thing over and over? It can be very irritating. On-the-job training is almost always a better opportunity for helping a child understand how to apply a principle we’re trying to teach them. Give them an opportunity to practice a behavior, and they are more likely to remember that,” Smith said.

It is especially important for Christian families to make time to play as well as pray together, Smith said.

“My wife is always encouraging me to celebrate life and have fun. Her family was always good at having fun together. It shows an underlying purpose of life is to enjoy what God has given us. There is a time and place for everything. Laugh, live, love! There are intensely sad things going on in the world that we should be concerned about, that we should mourn. Yet, there are wonderful lives around us who look to parents to show them the way. We cannot miss the priority of teaching and modeling fun,” he said.

Parents can benefit as much as the kids, he added.

“We ALL need a break from the rat race to just have a little down time. Many of us run at breakneck speeds to accomplish all our priorities. Even if all our priorities are good ones, like church activities, sports, or community volunteerism, remember too much of a good thing is still too much,” Smith said.

“With the new year approaching, we should all be better parents. Making a New Year’s resolution to spend one night a week together, either playing games or engaging in some kind of family activity together, would be a great place to start,” Smith said.

— E-mail: bdavis@register-herald.com

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