What do a stop-action animation studio, light-up building blocks, a huggable hedgehog, an interactive graphic novel, a gaming console for toddlers, a rugged diaper bag, and a door for fairies have in common? Well, not much, except that they’re among the nearly 50 winners of the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval for the 2015 Winter Holidays. Be sure to check out these great products and all the rest here.
Tim Larkin, co-author of How to Survive the Most Critical 5 Seconds of Your Life.
Topic: The importance of using violence to defend against violence.
Issues: Antisocial vs. Asocial violence; when to engage; fight or flight; why you must learn to cause major injury; violence as the ultimate survival tool; overcoming the stigma of violence; the difference between competition-based martial arts and what you must do to survive; what to do when you don’t have a choice.
Samantha Rodman, author of How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce.
Topic: Healthy, effective communication techniques for your changing family.
Issues: Types of divorcing families; initiating honest conversations where your children can express their thoughts; how emotions work; validate your children’s feelings, making them feel acknowledged and secure; differences between amicable, strained, and hostile divorces; strengthening and deepening your relationship with your kids.
Life can get pretty crazy around here. Typical weekdays start at about six with me rolling out of bed and giving my 12-year old daughter a gentle wakeup nudge. I take the dog for a walk, and 20 minutes later, it’s time for a second nudge—this one somewhat less gentle. Then it’s down to the kitchen where I make breakfast and lunch. At this point, my daughter swoops in, wolfs down a waffle or some eggs, mutters an unintelligible complaint about the lunch menu, and spends a few minutes scrambling around trying to find her shoes and homework, and brush her teeth. Then we slip into the car and it’s off to school. During the ride she’s either frantically trying to finish an assignment that’s due in an hour or snoozing. By the time I drop her off, we’ve probably exchanged 15 words.
Afternoons aren’t much chattier, between picking her up, schlepping her to the extracurricular du jour, driving home (although at least 10 minutes of dad-daughter conversation is mandatory during these after-school rides), and trying to pull something together for dinner while she goes to her room to do her homework. Next thing I know, it’s off to bed.
I know that what I’m describing is pretty typical for today’s busy families—especially the part about the challenge of finding quality (let along quantity) family time. And if it’s this hard to stay connected to kids you see every day, imagine how hard it is to stay connected to children when you’re a parent on a business trip, a military servicemember on deployment, or a grandparent who lives hundreds of miles away.
Having done a lot of work with military families and hearing firsthand how painful it is to be separated from the folks back home for months at a time, I was thrilled when the folks at Panasonic asked me to explore their new HomeTeam app, which is designed to keep families connected across time and distance. In a word, it’s wonderful.
HomeTeam, which was developed by Panasonic Health & Wellness Solutions, gives families three ways to connect, the most obvious being video chat. But anyone who’s ever tried to have an actual conversation with a young child on Skype or some other platform will tell you that the phrase “awkward silence” is more appropriate than “chat.” That’s where HomeTeam’s other features really shine.
With HomeTeam, the kids and mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, or anyone else can read stories or play games together—and by together I actually mean together. (It’s possible for people in up to five locations to be online at the same time.) The HomeTeam app includes nearly 2,000 classic and new digital books, including a number of recently added ones from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel. Books are sorted by age group or category (adventure, animals, biography, fiction, non-fiction, folk tales, sports, and more). Pick a story, figure out who’s doing the reading, and you’re off.
There are also more than a dozen interactive games, again, sorted by age or category. These include matching games, puzzles, classics like Go Fish and chess, and even educational selections that focus on word play, math, and science.
Whether reading a story or playing a game, kids and adults are doing it together, with the game or book on part of the screen, and the smiling faces on another part. Of course, there’s nothing like snuggling up on the couch together and reading or playing a game while sitting at the same table. But when that’s not possible, HomeTeam gets you about as close as possible.
The service is aimed at kids 3-12, and the interface is sleek, attractive, and extremely easy to use. You can download HomeTeam in the App Store, Google Play, or at MyHomeTeam.com. Give it a whirl for 30 days for free (you don’t even need a credit card to get started). After that, HomeTeam costs $8.99 per month and can be shared with up to five family members.
Disclosure: I received an extended trial and some compensation to facilitate this review. However, it would take a lot more that that to make me give something a thumbs up that I don’t honestly believe it deserves.
Jason Hanson, author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life.
Topic: Safety and survival techniques to keep your family protected
Issues: Picking locks; essential items to carry at all times; know when you’re being followed and how to lose your tail; preventing home invasions, carjackings, and kidnappings; traveling safely no matter where you are.
A guest post by Harry Vincent
When the kids are tiny they’re easy to please. When they grow up, things get much harder. Here are some fun ideas for a more mature family that doesn’t want to give up family time.
Cook a Large Meal Together
Cooking is usually something reserved for the parents, but teens should learn this valuable life skill sooner rather than later. If your teenager doesn’t have any real cooking skills, then family cooking can teach them everything they need to know (or at least the basics) while simultaneously giving you more family time. Everyone wins.
Start with simple things like cooking pasta or baking lasagna. Then, over several weeks, you can work up to more challenging cooking feats like baked goods and soufflés. If you’re feeling especially daring, brew some beer or some other alcohol at home (though they might feel that it’s unfair if they can’t drink anything).
fermented beverages that aren’t alcoholic is also an option and will teach them a lot about how their favorite store-bought foods are made (think pickles, sauerkraut and the ever-popular kombucha).
Have an Upgraded Movie Night
Instead of renting a DVD, start off by streaming a new movie from iTunes, Amazon, or Google Play. If you’re one of those families who still doesn’t have high speed Internet, look at these Time Warner Cable Internet Plans.
To kick things up a notch, take the party outside and throw the movie up on a big screen. You will need a projector for this. Is it an investment? Yup. Will it be fun? Are you kidding? You remember how much fun the drive in was when you were a kid? You can bring that experience home. Your kids will love it.
Choose Unusual Activities
When the usual stuff gets boring, and it eventually will, it’s time to kick things up a notch. A few ideas include:
Indoor rock climbing is becoming more popular and, if you’ve never tried it as a family before, you should take your kids. Maybe they’ve been with their friends, but there’s no reason why this can’t also be a family activity.
Is it unusual? Maybe. But, you will also build team and trust skills, spotting each other as you climb to the top.
How many families do you actually see go-karting together. Not many. And, that’s precisely why you should try it. Go-karting is fun and you can kick things up a notch by racing against each other and keeping score.
The way you would likely have to do this is by racing for time. At least one family member would have to sit out each round and time the others. Rotate drivers so that everyone races the same number of times. At the end of the night, add up the times and the lowest total time gets a prize – maybe a free drink or a sundae or something else (and if you win, yes your kids should totally pay for it!).
Have a Sing-A-Long
It might sound cheesy, but it’s not if you put some time into it to make it special. First, you need the right setting. Dedicate a room in the house for family games. If you’re going to do family karaoke, you had better nail it or it’s going to be torture for everyone.
A lot of people like karaoke because it’s silly, you can goof off, and no one actually expects you to sing well. But, what would happen if you flipped this game on its ear, took singing lessons, and held a family competition?
That’s exactly what you should do.
Buy your family a good microphone from a company like Blue Microphones, and get a shock mount with a pop filter. Now, take some singing lessons as a family. Think of this as training for the competition.
When you feel you’re ready, pick songs and pit family members against each other. Everyone votes for their favorite singer. You could even get extended family in on the action if you needed impartial judges. It might be unusual, but at the end you will have accomplished two things: you will have learned a very good skill (singing) and you will have brought your family closer and shown your appreciation for their new talents.
And, that’s not strange. Matter of fact, that’s what family should be about – coming together.
Harry Vincent is a family therapist. He likes to share his insights on family living. His articles can be found mainly on lifestyle and family websites.
Martha Ertman, author of Love’s Promises.
Topic: How formal and informal contracts shape all kinds of families.
Issues: The difference between a “deal” (I cook dinner and you wash the dishes) and an enforceable contract; Type A families (heterosexual couple raising a biologically related child) vs. Type B families (pretty much every other kind of family imaginable); how contracts shape and sustain families as opposed to simply being cold and calculating.