We’ve been learning all about togetherness and how important it can be to get away on a much-needed family holiday with the kids. We can all be guilty of not spending enough quality time together with our nearest and dearest, so there’s nothing better than a holiday in the sun to bring us all closer together again.
To learn more about the importance of a family holiday, we spoke to psychologist, Dr Sam Wass, who you might recognise as the on-screen scientist of the multi-award-winning Channel 4 series The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6-Year-Olds. Here, he talks activities, perceptions and making childhood memories.
1) What positive or negative differences can it have on a child when they spend more or less quality time with their parents?
There has been a lot of research conducted into how children benefit from quality time spent with their parents. We tend to think of learning as something that happens in school, but in fact, so much early learning, of children’s basic understanding of how the world works, is done at home. Almost all of children’s early language is learnt at home and there’s research showing that the quality and variety of language that children hear at home can strongly influence how their own language skills develop. There’s also research suggesting that, if parents are more tuned into their children’s emotions, then their children, in turn, tend to be better at understanding emotions in others, such as their friends.
2) What advice would you give to parents who don’t think they’re spending enough quality time with their children?
Well, if you’re worrying about it, then that’s probably a good sign! Nobody really gets as much quality time with their children as they’d like. Childhood happens so fast, and everyone is in such a hurry. Weekdays are particularly hard, as everyone (the children included) is often exhausted from their days already. And spending quality time together, like having a conversation or doing a shared activity can take up energy. Often it’s easier to find time for this at the weekend instead.
3) What’s the ideal amount of quality time that parents should be spending with their children each day?
It’s hard to put a number on how much time parents should be spending with their children each day, particularly as everything is so variable. A car journey, for example, can be two people staring blankly out of the window or it can be an opportunity for a fantastic conversation, depending on both of your moods. It’s a good idea to try to get a variety of activities in, at least once a week, including physical play outdoors, some shared activities indoors, some screen time, some book reading time at bedtime and so on. And it’s a good idea to let the child choose the activity too, rather than you deciding. There are so many opportunities to get some good language in there, remembering that children are learning their language skills all the time, just by talking.
4) What small changes would you encourage parents to introduce into their daily routine at home to improve togetherness?
Often it’s hard, but some things are easier to change than others. For example, it can be impossible to drag them away from a TV screen at the end of a tiring day at school, but even sitting and watching TV with them can help. Often, increasingly, everyone in the family has their own individual screens, so TV watching can be quite cut-off from one another. But sitting watching together can be a great way to encourage children to ask questions of their parents and get a conversation started.
5) What are some of the best activities families can do together when on holiday?
There are some simple ways that families can spend more quality time together on holiday and really make the most of their time away. I’ve been working with Thomas Cook on developing some new initiatives that are going to be trialled with families this summer, including book boxes in communal areas so families can read more together and specially-designed table cloths in the restaurants to encourage family fun and conversations at meal times. There should be a whole range of activities to stimulate some lively family conversations. It sounds like a lot of fun!
6) Do you think that, as well as quality time with each other, great weather and being in different surroundings can add to that improved feeling of togetherness?
Yes, definitely. And there’s a reason why so much of our day-to-day lives is forgotten, but we can often remember our childhood holidays for the rest of our lives. It helps in storing a memory if we have one particular geographical place where that memory is located. So things that happened at home, where we spend so much of our time, often get blurred up when we’re older. But we can remember holidays, to places where we only went once, for much, much longer. So they’re some of the most important parts of our childhood experience.
7) What’s your favourite way to spend quality time with your family?
We’re expecting our first child at the moment, but for years I’ve been the kind of person who’d rather chat to the kids at a family party than the grown-ups. I love the unusual perspectives that children get on things; the view from beneath a table, watching the adults’ legs walking past. I think as an adult it’s really important to see things from a child’s point of view; it helps to connect with them but it also helps you, too, to stay fresh and to keep a perspective on things. Many of the things that bother us enormously as adults are things that most kids wouldn’t care about. Sometimes I find that that really helps me to get perspective on my adult worries.
8) Do you think the likes of TVs, smartphones and tablets are having a much bigger impact on family togetherness time?
Yes. It’s great, in many ways, that recently we have had a shift to having your own screen and watching TV separately more. But it does split us up from one another. It reduces our togetherness time, but it also has other effects too. For example, children’s emotional ups and downs (how frightened they get when they’re watching something scary) are probably larger when they’re watching something alone, compared to when you are watching with them too.
9) What is your most treasured memory of a family holiday from when you were a child?
I have fond memories of some of the places I went to as a very young child; not so much the details of what we did, but I remember what the places felt like. There are photos of me on my parents’ back in the Yorkshire Dales. I really remember what the air, and the cold, felt like from those trips. And I remember holidays that we used to go on to a campsite in France; what the heat, and the sand, felt like on your skin. It’s so important, I think, to give those types of varied and interesting experiences, even to young children, if you can.
I hope you found this interview useful in learning new ways to spend quality time together with your little ones. What, if anything, do you think you might change going forward? Let me know in the comments below.