“We could make these gummy shark mocktails,” one of my daughters says.
“That could be fun,” I say, optimistic we may have discovered the holy grail: a safe, fun activity that can entertain 16-, 14-, and 8-year-old girls.
On yet another pandemic day, the kids and I sit at the kitchen table trying to figure out how to fill our time.
It feels like we’ve repeated this scene 546,000 times in the last year, and I’m over it.
Today, an old issue of Food Network magazine saves me. It has migrated from the pile of magazines on the counter to the table, and, as we eat breakfast, one of my kids mindlessly flips through, stopping at an article about throwing a Shark Week party, complete with fun recipes.
Within moments, I shift from wondering how to get through the day to having a great party idea: We’ll have a Shark Week party!
A new, revived energy fills the room. We may not be able to invite outside guests, but we’re having a family party night!
We decide on the recipes we want to make, brainstorm activities (tie-dying T-shirts in shark colors, playing pin the fin on the shark, and watching shark week episodes), and make a list of everything we need to buy.
Then, masks on, we buy our supplies and return home to prep for the party. What a win: an entire day filled with fun activities and a sense of celebration.
Getting Through the Grind
“We all need moments of novelty and fun outside of daily life,” says parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham. “Research shows we remember things that are a little out of the ordinary.” She explains that these fun moments help us get through the grind—and she agrees that pandemic life has been a grind!
After talking to Dr. Markham, I realize we should plan more events like this, find more activities to do with teens, even after we’re done with social distancing and mask-wearing. Not only do house parties help us make memories, they have a positive impact on our family’s mental health and development.
The Benefits of Shared Experiences
Research has shown that we’re happier when we spend our money on experiences like family party nights rather than on possessions. And the anticipation of an experience brings more positive emotions than anticipating a purchase. In other words, spending money and time planning a house party can bring my kids more prolonged and deeper-felt joy than buying them something.
And the benefits of these positive experiences reach far beyond the joy felt in the weeks leading up to them. A 2019 study found that positive childhood experiences lead to reduced chances of adult depression and improved chances of having positive adult relationships.
2. Strengthened siblings bonds
Family party nights provide an opportunity for siblings to enjoy their time together. “Sibling relationships depend on good times,” Markham says. “Siblings who have the most fun together have the strongest relationships going into adulthood.”
That’s important because the strength of sibling relationships impacts kids throughout their lives. Numerous studies have found that positive sibling relationships can be protective against negative emotions. In fact, sibling relationships can impact child development as much as parental relationships.
And, as Markham says, the benefits of those relationships go beyond childhood. Positive sibling bonds correlate with positive mood and good overall health even into middle age.
3. Kids get the chance to take the lead
Kids like to be involved in real-life activities, and they develop confidence when we genuinely appreciate their contributions. “When kids get to do something they can take the lead on, they get more out of it,” Markham says. “If we value their contributions, they feel valued.” Feeling valued and confident can lead kids to engage in other tasks that seem difficult or daunting.
A family at-home party is the perfect opportunity for kids to take ownership of planning, decorating or cooking. We don’t need to stress if they “mess up” because the stakes are low. There’s no pressure to show off our party planning skills to outsiders. Instead, we can relax and let the kids be in charge.
Kids of different ages can take on tasks that are developmentally appropriate and related to their interests. Teens can play a leadership role, for instance, perhaps by doing the shopping or supervising the kitchen. An artsy tween sibling can take charge of decorations.
4. Strengthened family identities and values
One of the main benefits of a house party is the opportunity to connect as a family. “Deciding what celebrations to have enables a family to identify their values,” says Markham.
For us, bingeing Shark Week episodes has been a fun way to connect. For other families, the focus might be reading Harry Potter books, playing the ukulele, or watching basketball.
Defining what the family cares about leads to traditions that can be passed down for generations and helps kids develop their own personal identities. And that’s something to celebrate!