By Christine Murray, HRI Director

School’s almost out in Guilford County, and that has us at HRI thinking about summer fun and family vacations! Now, we love hanging out by the pool, road trips, and cookouts as much as everyone else. But, since our HRI mission is to promote happy, healthy, and safe relationships of all kinds in our community, when we think about summer, our minds go to how families in our community can make the most of their summers as a time to strengthen their connections and create lasting memories that will become a valuable part of their family’s history.

So, we’re taking this week to offer families in our community ways to add some intentional relationship-building goals to their fun summer plans. This may sounds like a quick way to suck the fun out of summer, but it turns out that having fun is serious business when it comes to building family connections!  

Having fun is part of healthy relationships and families. Of course, it’s easiest to have fun when you also develop and practice positive relationship skills, like effective communication and conflict management skills. But, we can’t underestimate the importance of fun and play within families for strengthening relationship connections.

Vacations play a special role in families. Recent research suggests that family vacations create “happiness anchors” that provide children with happy memories that they can recall during difficult times for years to come. According to 2012 research from Project: Time Off, “the majority of adults (62%) say their earliest memories were of family vacations taken when they were between ages 5 and 10. Half (49%) of adults describe their memories of childhood family vacations as ‘very vivid.’ These memories are significantly stronger than their memories of school events or birthday celebrations (34% and 31%).”

Many of these relational benefits from summer fun and family vacations will happen naturally, but families also can be intentional in fostering the types of experiences that are most likely to foster family bonding experiences. And, of course,, a family vacation that’s full of stress, work brought from home, and conflict is likely to cause more problems for families. So, thinking ahead and being intentional about setting a positive tone for your experiences helps families make the most of their family vacations and summertime fun.

Did you know that researchers have actually studied what makes family vacations mean the most for kids? In 2008, a group of Canadian researchers led by Margo Hilbrecht published a study called, “Experiences, perspectives, and meanings of family vacations for children.” They interviewed 24 school-age children to learn about how children make meaning of family vacations. Their research identified 3 main themes in the most valuable aspects of family vacations for the children interviewed: (1) having fun, (2) newness and familiarity, and (3) social connections. Over the next three days, we’ll share blog posts with ideas for how families can be intentional about building up these three components of family vacations. In addition to looking at those three ingredients for a meaningful family vacation, later in the week we’ll also discuss the importance of unplugging from work and technology during vacation, as well as offer some ideas for family fun here in Guilford County.

Join us this week as we celebrate the start of summer and encourage families in our community to make the most of their time together. Here’s wishing you all the best summer–for connecting and family fun–ever!

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