Children don't just accidentally “grow up” to become emotionally healthy, mature, compassionate individuals, they need to have their parents around often so they can see their values put into action. We need to share our life stories and experiences with our children, and most of all, we need to encourage, love and respect them.
Having an "All-In Night" (AIN) tradition in your family will do just that. It builds community within the family unit, and that in turn creates a confidence in young people that they will carry with them forever.
My husband, Chris, and I learned through our experience as parents that All-In Nights brought a healthy closeness to our family and a self-awareness for each member as an individual as well as an increased awareness of others.
Over the years, our AINs have helped Chris and me through the process of gradually "letting go" of our kids, which made it easier for them to move out and be productive, happy adults with our continued support as mentors.
Introducing the idea
No matter how large or small your family, whether you live with one parent or both, and whether you have one child or ten, the AIN principle can work for you.
Buy each person in your family a lined notebook. On the first night, each person writes his or her name on the cover. Encourage them to decorate it with stickers or their own artwork. Write the current date on the first page, then write down several goals that they want to achieve during that year. Younger children may simply scribble a pattern on the notebook while older ones may have goals such as "This year I want to read two books that will help me to grow as a person"; "I want to practice my piano five nights a week for half an hour"; or "I want to be a friend to Abby from school because she is lonely."
Revisit these goals as a family every six months to see how much each person achieved. Try All-In Nights with your family. I think you'll like it.
How to begin
Here's an idea on how to plan for your first All-In Night. Choose a night when everyone can be at home. Monday was the night for us, and there were no exceptions. We didn't have visitors on this night, and no one went out for any reason. As you can imagine, this was difficult for a busy family of seven, but we did it,
Decide on a theme for each AIN and encourage each child to come up with a project through the week that's related to that theme, which they can share with the rest of the family on your AIN.
Make projects age-appropriate. While you will encourage your 10-year-old to do his AIN project on his own, you may need to help your 4-year-old.
Don't make the projects too complicated. Ten minutes is long enough.
Have a special treat. We had fruit desserts every other night of the week, but we made AINs special—delicious ice cream or banana splits with all the trimmings. Also, the rule for us was that family members could enjoy the treat only if they participated in the activity.
Be flexible. Monitor your children's behavior. Where we discerned a problem or an issue, or even if one of our children was shy, we could restructure or alter the main topic for that night in order to assist with that particular need.
Take time off. You can do away with AIN during the holidays to give everyone a break.
Don't give up. In our family, AIN began with dinner together as usual. During the main meal, we would talk about the topic for the day and share answers. We did this to shorten the process, keeping it to the point, and going from person to person in turn. When everyone had had their turn, we enjoyed dessert together. While eating our special treat, I would tell the kids about the following week's topic, always keeping it short and simple.
Choosing a topic
Try to cover the various situations your kids are likely to face in life. This is a good time to share experience you've learned from and tips that can help your kids to live full, robust lives. Keep your long-range goal in mind as you discuss different topics each week. The objective is to help your kids develop lifelong attitudes and habits. You may have already taught your kids about principles such as kindness, courage, patience and affirming others, but it's great for them to be reminded and to have a chance for extra practice.
The principles taught in our AIN share values we all use in everyday life, but focusing on them during All-In Night provides a great opportunity to be more intentional in using them. We encouraged the principles to be put into practice for the coming week then received feedback the following week on how they all managed.
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times, April 2011.