Wednesday 20 June 2018

The (cheap) activities that Irish kids say they most want to do with their parents

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Stock photo
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

What family activities make Irish children happiest? When do they most feel connected to their family?

A day trip to the zoo, a cinema treat, or a trip to McDonald’s perhaps?

Well, according to a recent Irish study, it’s none of the above.

Swimming, walking the dog, having a movie night at home, visiting grandparents, and building a fort in the sitting room with cushions are the biggest hits amongst Irish children.

Dr. Colman Noctor, a child and adolescent psychoanalytical psychotherapist, who recently helped to conduct a survey of 600 Irish parents and children, says Irish families should pare it back when it comes to their family time.

“We didn’t hear anything about the extravagant birthday gift or the marquee with the 100 people in garden for the Communion party. It was that we built forts with cushions in living rooms. Instead of sitting down in a posh restaurant where they have to be quiet, it’s about parents getting down to the children’s level. Going out on the bikes in the park is much more enjoyable for them.”

“It really is about trying to do something enjoyable for the children.”

“I remember one of the things that came up in the focus group is one child talked about how they were queueing for a water slide and the family couldn’t have their phones in their pockets because they were going into water, and for twenty minutes when they were in the queue, there wasn’t any device around, so they all just talked.”

One topic of contemporary debate for parents is how to keep their children off technological devices, but actually Dr Noctor says children feel they are unable to access their parents because they’re on their phones.

“Parents are now as screen dependent as much as young people.”

“Technology eats into that time where the windows for quality time are available. Six out of 10 parents are unhappy with the amount of time their children spend on devices.”

“But in the last number of years, in my clinical experience and in the focus groups, the issue that’s coming up from kids is ‘I can’t access my mum because she’s stuck behind a screen or I can’t access my dad’.”

“Those intrusions on family life are moments when togetherness is compromised.”

A sense of togetherness in a family is what helps to garner a sense of trust for a child when they are in distress about something, like an issue at school, Dr Noctor says.

“That closeness with family members is hugely protective. The child can go to their parents when they’re in crisis, and for this to happen, this closeness is something that is built over years, it’s not something that can be just created at the moment of crisis itself.”

“Family rituals like movie nights, family meals, and going to Granny’s on Sunday came up as some things that should be protected.”

As part of a survey of 600 Irish parents and children by Center Parcs Ireland, which is set to open its doors in summer 2019, they revealed their views on family togetherness and what the barriers to that closeness are.

Very active Irish families said they experience 48pc stronger family togetherness than inactive families.

Irish mums said they spend 29pc more time with their children, whereas Irish dads rate the time they spend with their children as 25pc higher in terms of quality.

For 65pc of Irish families, walking the dog is the most popular physical activity to engage in as a family, followed by going to the beach together for 40pc of people.

For 38pc of Irish families, going swimming is the most popular activity to foster family togetherness.

“The most stark finding we had was that families who describe themselves as active had more feelings of togetherness.”

He added: “The interesting thing is that all of these activities are free”

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