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5 Benefits of Wintertime Family Time

bigstock--150802607 Poet T.S. Elliot may have said that April is the cruelest month but I have to disagree. At least where I live in New England, February is the worst. It may have the least amount of days but it seems to have the most amount of dreariness. We are often house-bound due to a wintry mix of sleet and rain, extreme cold or outright snowstorms. On such days, it’s neither appealing nor wise to spend much time outdoors — even for the most enthusiastic enthusiasts of winter sports. The term “cabin fever” gains new meaning, especially when the household includes young children.

The antidote, for parents and kids alike, is indoor family play. Yes, play. Being trapped inside doesn’t have to feel like a trap. It can be an opportunity to get to know our children better, to be closer as a family and to model that gloomy weather doesn’t have to mean gloomy people. Instead, family fun time can be fun for everyone. It can relieve the relentlessness of winter. It can lighten the mood of the adults, foster a sense of security and belonging for the kids and give everyone in the family the chance to experience the joy that comes from being part of the clan.

Playing on video games doesn’t count — unless family members are working together to defeat the game. Although organized activities on weekends or after school can get kids active and can help them develop social skills or creative talents, they don’t foster family togetherness. On a practical level, such scheduled activities aren’t likely to be available exactly when you and your kids are feeling cooped up on a gray February morning.

There’s a saying: “The family that plays together stays together”.  Don’t underestimate the importance of fun as a family. February (or any time we’re housebound) may make it less possible to send the kids out to the yard or park but it makes it more possible for families to reap the many benefits of playing together.

5 Benefits of Family Playtime

  1. Parents who play with their kids enjoy parenting more than parents who don’t. Let’s face it: Parenting is often hard work. It’s physically exhausting and mentally challenging. Just when you have parenting a two year old figured out, the kid turns three. The interests and tastes of young children keep changing. Adolescents confuse us and confound us with their “go away but pay attention to me” behaviors.Being silly together, getting on the floor to tussle, making clay sculptures, finger painting, or playing a friendly competitive card game lets us get involved with our children on a different, and positive, level.
  2. Fun time as a family brings everyone closer. Families that laugh and enjoy each other develop a sense of belonging and loyalty. Relationships between the siblings, between the parents and the kids, and even among extended family members get stronger. Fun times together help create a positive family identity. A collective bank of positive family memories can help family members cope when the inevitable challenges and even the tragedies of life come around.
  3. Playfulness fosters imagination. In a goal oriented world, we can forget that allowing for imagination, creativity and a little healthy distraction also has value. Fun time means it’s okay to be distracted. Cleaning a closet can be an archeological dig. Who knows what is lurking back there? Little kids may want to fool around with the hats or clomp around in the shoes. It’s okay. You can always finish the job after they are in bed.
  4. Members of families who laugh together tend to be happier and healthier. Sharing a good joke, as long as it is not at anyone’s expense, just plain feels good. Laughing together relaxes and connects everyone. It can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, boost the immune system, trigger those feel-good hormones called endorphins, lower blood pressure, protect oldsters’ hearts and even help us all live longer.  Researchers are finding that there is truth to the old saying: “Laughter is the best medicine”. It may not be the “best” medicine, but it sure seems to help.
  5. Play contributes to everyone’s mental health. The old saying “All work and no play makes Jack (or Jane) a dull boy (girl)” is true. A life of relentless routine and chores “dulls” a person mentally. A hard day at the office or a day of running around to do errands we need to (but don’t really like to) do can leave us depleted. The same is true for kids who have had a hard day at school. On a dreary February Saturday or snow day, it may be tempting to just fall onto the couch, grab the remote and watch some mindless TV. It may be tempting to ignore the fact that the kids are plugged into their phones or video games or TVs. Isolating and vegetating may seem like all any of you can do. Stop! The reality is that retreating into screens and away from each other is a prescription for depression and loneliness. Zoning out does nothing to improve our resilience or to support our mental health. Not so when we play. Play connects us. Play recharges our emotional and physical batteries. Research shows that playing even helps us come back to those routine and necessary tasks with new energy and a more positive spirit.

February may feel long but it does have a day for love and sentiment stuck smack in the middle. I don’t think that’s by accident. Valentine’s Day reminds us to love the people we love, regardless of the weather. Let’s make every day (or at least most of our days) include an affirmation of family love through family fun.

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5 Benefits of Wintertime Family Time

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). 5 Benefits of Wintertime Family Time. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 6 Feb 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.