If you often find yourself at a loss as to what to make for dinner (only to end up putting a frozen pizza in the oven in sheer desperation), then you’re not alone. And if you also find yourself thinking, “Yeah, I could plan meals ahead of time, but who has time for that?” you’re also not alone.
Believe it or not, the whole meal planning thing actually helps.
Since my family started meal planning, we spend less on groceries (because I know exactly what I need for the week since the meals are already planned), I spend less time staring into an open freezer, and we eat healthier (fewer hastily thrown together meals means healthier meals in our house).
Give it one month – just one. Each weekend, carve out thirty or forty minutes to plan out meals for the coming week and to make a grocery list of everything you’ll need for those meals. Put the week’s menu up on the fridge and then stick to it. After a month, you might just be a convert.
2. Force Your Family into Organization with a Craft Project
A busy family often leads to chaos – no one knows everyone else’s schedule, the mail is deposited all over the house, the keys go missing, homework is discovered in the couch cushions, and you wind up with fifteen jars of peanut butter because you lost your grocery list and can’t remember if you needed peanut butter so you buy more peanut butter…
These problems can all be solved with one big craft project (and a whole lot of persistence in forcing everyone to utilize said craft project): A family organization hub.
We’ve all seen them online: a big thing on the wall with key hooks, a calendar, a grocery list, a place for mail, slots for everyone’s homework, and whatever other tools your family might need. They can be pretty, they can be ugly, they can be over the top, they can be basic – they can be whatever you want.
Spend an afternoon putting together a customized organizational hub for your family. Then spend a couple of weeks forcing everyone to actually use it.
If you fail, you may have wasted some time on a craft project. (And who hasn’t done that before?)
If you succeed, you will have accomplished the nearly impossible task of organizing your family.
3. Reinstate the Family Dinner
When kids get older and schedules get hectic, it can be hard to sit down for dinner together at the same time. But research shows that regular family meals have tons of benefits, including:
Establishing better self-esteem and coping skills
Building stronger family connections
Encouraging healthy eating habits
Reducing behavioral problems
Improving student achievement
Boosting the vocabulary of younger children
A family meal every single night might not be an attainable goal, but resolve to set aside a few nights per week to sit down together over a healthy (pre-planned?) meal.
4. Make (and Enforce) Chore Charts
Sometimes it’s just easier to vacuum the rug yourself than to cajole your child into doing it. Doing the dishes goes faster (and gets done more thoroughly) if mom does it than if the kids do it.
But research shows that kids who have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and become better able to cope with frustration and delay gratification. Not surprisingly, all of these traits combine to make for more successful students!
Check out this chore chart from the University of Arkansas for age-appropriate chores for children age 2 through 18.
5. Effort Counts
According to Scientific American (and the three decades of research they discuss in their article), the secret to raising smart kids is to not tell them how smart they are.
Kids who grow up being praised for innate traits like intelligence (“Oh, you’re so smart!”) internalize the idea that success is something you’re either equipped for or you’re not. Such kids might find math challenging; instead of working really hard to get better at math, they often come to the conclusion that they just aren’t good at math. And if you’re just not good at math, then trying harder won’t seem like a very good solution.
The secret to overcoming this, researchers suggest, is to praise effort and process over innate skill. In other words, don’t tell little Johnny how smart he is for getting that A on his spelling test – tell him how hard he worked to get that A.
6. Set Smart Tech Limits
Smart phones, tablets, computers, and televisions have surrounded us with screens. To absolutely no one’s surprise, research has shown that too much screen time is bad for everyone (kids AND adults). It can lead to sleep disorders, attention problems, poor academic achievement, and a host of other issues.
The solution isn’t to take away all access to technology but to set smart limits and stick to them. Check out this article from Great Schools for some tips on how to set smart limits for your kids.
7. The Family that Reads Together…
Most people know that reading to young children is important for later success in terms of vocabulary development and literacy, but older kids can benefit from family reading time as well. Establishing time each week to read together as a family – whether reading aloud to younger children or simply sitting around reading separately at the same time – helps to reinforce good reading habits in children (and parents) of all ages.
Surveys show that about 1/3 of Americans don’t even touch a book in any given year. Surveys also show that women are more likely to read than men. To ensure that your child grows up to be a reader (and enjoys all of the benefits of reading), it’s important to model that behavior. Family reading time not only establishes the habit of reading in your kids but also shows them that adults read, too, and that reading is an enjoyable pastime for people of all ages and genders.
8. Be Smarter About Homework Help
Homework is a perennial parental nightmare. First there’s the battle of getting kids to do their homework. Then there’s the battle of helping them do their homework.
In order to create independent learners, it’s important to be smart about just how much homework help you offer. Too little help can result in frustration, poor self-esteem, and bad grades. Too much homework help can have the same effect. Check out this article for tips and best practices on homework help. And don’t forget: If you think your child needs extra support, don’t hesitate to look for a good tutor (like those at C2 Education) to get your student on the right track.
9. Plan WITH Your Teens, Not FOR Them
Once you’ve got a teenager in house, it’s time to plan for college. Which college to attend is a decision that has life-long impacts, so it’s important that your teen be part of the planning process. It can be tempting to set goals FOR your teen, but it’s much more important to help your teen set goals for themselves.
For guidance in the college admission process, check out this past blog post.
10. Get More Sleep
Studies show that 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, so there’s a pretty decent chance that you’re sleep deprived. What’s more, a 2015 CDC study found that 90% of American teenagers are sleep-deprived.
Sleep deprivation leads to a host of health problems, poor academic performance, and poor growth, so make it a resolution to set an earlier bedtime and promote healthy sleep habits for everyone in the family.