By Dan Coulter
We tend to remember extremes: our best days and worst days.
You usually can't control the worst days. Bad stuff happens when it happens.
But you can make more days some of your family's best days by recognizing and harnessing the power of fun. It can bring your family closer, help you teach your kids what you want them to learn and get you all through tough times.
Just about everyone knows someone who's fun to be around. Maybe it's an aunt or uncle or someone you've worked with. Someone who seems to generate laughter and good times.
Picture yourself playing that role for your family.
Maybe you're already a walking fun factory. If not, and this just doesn't sound like you, hear me out. I'm not talking about a personality transplant or suggesting that you assume a forced goofiness. I'm talking about focusing on the part of us all that enjoys having fun. Wherever you are on the fun scale, you can probably turn it up a notch.
I have, at different times in my life, been Mr. Fun and a real downer to be around. Finding ways to snap myself out of a bad mood became a crucial skill when my kids came into my life. Especially when I was working long hours and only saw them at the end of the day and on weekends. I couldn't afford to waste any time with them moping around.
Every family is different, but let me share a few things we've done to generate fun.
When my kids were little, I never did learn to completely leave work pressures at the office, but I'd juice myself up on the way home thinking about being with them and my wife, Julie.
When I hit the door, I'd pick up both Drew and Jessie and dance around the hallway, singing a little rapid-fire nonsense song I'd made up. They got a tremendous kick out of it, and it set a great tone for the rest of the evening. I found out early that things are only as special as you make them.
When things are tough or strained, a little fun can help turn things around. I remember working in my home-office on a weekend and hearing Julie, calling up the stairs, asking me if I could take some time and help her. She was dealing with housework and our two toddler kids and she was more than a bit exasperated. I grabbed a portable tape recorder and shoved in a tape of the
William Tell Overture, also used as the theme from "The Lone Ranger" on television. Many of you may recognize this as standard "rescue" music on old film soundtracks. Anyway, I rushed down the stairs like a comic book superhero with the William Tell Overture playing at full blast. I don't remember what I was working on at the time, but I know putting it aside and making a big entrance to immediately pitch in on family matters was a huge hit with Julie and the kids.
Playing family games was fun for us. I think one of the keys to success is monkeying with the rules so everyone can play. You don't have to throw the rules out the window, just modify them so young kids or those with some challenges can fully participate.
It's a hoot to play Scrabble with made-up words allowed - as long as they're inventive and you make up a fun meaning.
Pictionary, a kind of drawing version of "charades," was our favorite for a while. My kids still kid me about a duck I drew that looked like anything but.
One of Julie's real strengths is coming up with great gifts. She puts real thought into family presents. She also loves to bake and present the kids with care packages of brownies, cookies, cheese straws and such. No mama ever showered her kids with more encouragement than my wife - and I can always count on hearing her laughing when she's on the phone with Drew or
We also had a lot of fun with bedtime stories. My son and daughter were born 17 months apart, so they were close enough in age to enjoy many of the same things at the same time, such as bedtime stories.
Every night when they were old enough to enjoy them, I’d make up a new story for Drew and Jessie. Until I decided to tape record the stories so I could offer the kids "reruns" when I felt too tired to come up with new ideas.
Not that the stories were all original. I borrowed liberally from any book, movie play, TV show or cartoon I'd ever seen for ideas. The tape recordings are testaments to how tired I was many nights, because you can hear me yawn frequently during the stories. But those recordings are a treasure now. Not so much for what I'm saying, but for the laughs and questions and suggestions from my kids that are sprinkled throughout the soundtrack. There's a story on one tape which features Drew as a prince and Jessie as a princess. In passing, my voice notes that Princess Jessie has on a beautiful dress. I move quickly on toward a peak of adventure when Jessie
interrupts and hauls me back. "What about the dwess?" her little voice chirps. She had her own priorities. Adventure could, and did, wait for a detailed description of the princess dress.
The stories featured Jessie's stuffed teddy bear, "Bearly." Bearly Bear would routinely pop into Jessie's room and lead Jessie and Drew through a magic door in Jessie's closet to the land of the Bear King. The Bear King's realm was frequently invaded by evil wizards, who'd have to be out-smarted and banished by Jessie, Drew and Bearly. Professional note: Evil wizards are particularly vulnerable to having dirty socks thrust beneath their noses. It makes them swoon so you can knock off their wizard hats and cut them off from their sources of power. You get the idea.
When my wife and I take long car trips, I like to listen to CD's I made of some of these old tapes and hear Drew and Jessie whoop it up in the background when an evil wizard gets a particularly smelly sock shoved in his face at a pivotal point in the story and goes into hysterics.
So, if you have any flair for story telling, I'd milk the dirty sock bit for all it's worth. It's killer material for four and five-year-olds.
And if storytelling's not your forte, no problem. Your local library is chock-full of great children's books you can read to your kids. You can even change the names of characters in the books and substitute your kids' names. Kids love hearing about themselves and librarians can be a huge help in pointing you toward fun books in the right age range. If you have more than one child, it's a great way to help them bond.
When families have a child with a disability, dealing with disability issues for a son or daughter can suck up a lot of time and make your other children feel neglected. Including all your kids in story time can help you wire into their brains that it's fun to be together. Not to mention the
opportunity to reinforce any other lessons you want to teach in the stories you tell or read. Having said this, we also found it was important to routinely spend one-on-one time with each of our kids.
Beginning in preschool, Drew was diagnosed with a series of communications-related disorders. He finally got a correct diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Even before we knew he had AS, we were trying to address his special needs.
It is a challenge to give both kids “equal time” when one has a special need. But looking back, giving attention to both kids helped bring them and our family closer together. And we had
a lot of fun along the way. Fun has made it easier to relate to the kids when they've gotten frustrated, especially when we've needed to persuade them to do something for their health or well-being. Fun is like oil that helps the family gears mesh smoothly.
Fun has been an important factor in our marriage, too. I heard a statistic the other day that the majority of parents who have kids on the autism spectrum get divorced. Finding ways to have fun while you're dealing with overwhelming pressure is like a life preserver in a storm. It helped save my wife and I more than once.
Today, Drew and Jessie are both doing well in college. They're living on their respective campuses and we could not be more proud. They keep in contact and support each other. We love having them home on school breaks because they're both so much fun to be around.
I like to think that part of the reason they're successful has to do with story time and mama laughs and poorly drawn ducks and the power of fun.
Because things are only as special as you make them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of "MANNERS FOR THE REAL WORLD: Basic Social Skills" and other videos for parents and children. You can find additional articles on his website: Coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2005 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used by Permission