Clemson University family researcher Iryna Sharaievska studies family leisure, with a particular focus on contemporary families.
Image Credit: College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

Many parents are wondering how to keep their families healthy, entertained and positive this summer now that vacations, camps and sport activities have either been canceled or moved to an online format. A Clemson University family leisure researcher has tips to help keep families playful, while also limiting the stress and anxiety that comes with living through a global pandemic.

According to Iryna Sharaievska, assistant professor in Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department, prioritizing family leisure time can help us more effectively balance work, children, pets, financial pressures and fear of the unknown.

“Research demonstrates that a family’s satisfaction with their leisure time is strongly related to their overall family satisfaction,” Sharaievska said. “In simple terms, families who play together, stay together! They have better communication and function better; they create valuable family memories and maintain family traditions.”

Sharaievska, who is a member of the Academy of Leisure Sciences, adds that the first step parents should take is to keep expectations low instead of striving for perfection. She said it’s unrealistic for parents to think they can serve as the perfect parent, partner, co-worker or community member, and attempts to do so will often result in a person never meeting any of the goals they set for themselves.

Instead, a more realistic goal would be to just get through this difficult time and minimize the damage to the health and happiness of a family, and this is where leisure activities can make a big difference. Sharaievska said these activities can play a big part in creating diversion so that families can focus more on enjoying each other’s company.

“Families use leisure to help children develop physically, emotionally and socially while also decreasing all family members’ stress and anxiety,” Sharaievska said. “Taking a kind and playful approach to these difficult times can help ensure that two years from now, you will refer to this time not as a pandemic, but as a time when you finally got to know your family.”

Sharaievska’s primary parenting tips include:

Take care of yourself first

When a parent’s basic needs are not met, they are less likely to be able to take good care of others. Do at least one thing a day for yourself: go for a run, have a cup of coffee in peace, read a couple of pages of the book you love. Make sure that every member of your family gets the same opportunity.

Make room for family time

Spend time together as a family, connect and be present. Simple, everyday activities, such as cooking a meal together, reading a book or chatting about your day can help your children feel safe, secure and connected with you. Carve out time to spend with siblings or grandparents using video chat, but if technology isn’t required for interaction, Sharaievska recommends leaving it in another room.

Get outside

One of the strongest predictors of a child’s healthy and active lifestyle is their parents’ activity level. Find fun ways to be active and spend time safely outside. Don’t wait for perfect weather or for the whole family to want to join in. If you make it a fun routine, more family members will want to get involved.

Share the load

Routines provide consistency and clear expectations. Plan a family meeting to redistribute chores and ensure that every family member is contributing in some way. Post the schedule on the wall if you need to and have everyone check off the chores on their list by the end of the day. The schedule should allow for regular breaks to spend time together and meet everyone’s needs for connection and interaction.

Be creative

Develop fun and challenging tasks to work on together that encourage creativity. Exciting activities can balance out everyday routines and provide opportunities for growth. Sharaievska said training for a race, going for an exploration walk, building a fort or tree house or creating a new board game are easy, inexpensive activities for parents and children to engage in together. Using easy and simple supplies you probably have around the house, such as cereal boxes or old t-shirts for crafts, will also teach your child to reuse and recycle.