Children don’t just accidentally “grow up” to be 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 within 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 have one parent or two and whether you have one child or 10, the AIN principle can work for you.
Buy each person in your family a lined notebook. On the first night, each person writes their 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 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 practise my piano five nights a week for half an hour”; or “I want to be a friend to Sally from school because she is lonely.”
Revisit these goals as a family every six months to see how much each person achieved.
How to Begin
- 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 four-year-old.
- Don’t make the projects too complicated. A 10-minute presentation is long enough.
- Have a special treat. We had fruit desserts every other night, but we made AINs special—delicious ice-cream or banana splits! Family members could enjoy the treat only if they participated in the activity.
- Be flexible. Monitor your children’s behaviour. Where we discerned a problem or an issue, or even if one of our children was a bit quieter, we could restructure or alter the AIN 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 meal, we would talk about the topic for the day and share answers. We kept to the point and went 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.
Try to cover the various situations your kids are likely to face in life. This is a good time to share experiences you’ve learned from, and tips to help your kids live robust lives.
Keep your long-range goal in mind as you discuss different topics. The objective is to help your kids develop lifelong attitudes and habits. You may have already taught principles such as courage, patience and affirming others, but it’s good for them to be reminded.
The principles taught in our AINs are 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.
Topic ideas for your own All-In Nights
This topic will help each family member to recognise ways they can express love to others and how they like to be shown love. As parents, part of our job is to teach our kids how to love by being an example to them. If we don’t tell the people who are closest to us how we like to be loved, how are they supposed to know? Explain to your kids that during the coming week, they have to think of ways they like to be loved and then share those ways with the family.
The ability to speak confidently in public will often give the speaker the edge in life in their work and career advancement. Encourage your children to come prepared to speak on a topic of interest to them for one or two minutes, depending on their age. When someone is passionate and involved in a subject, they will find it easy to talk about.
Ask your children to stand up while everyone listens and encourage the speaker to maintain eye contact with everyone, to stand with their hands still and not to say too many “ums.” Give them a huge round of applause when they finish and discuss the good points from their talk.
There is an old saying that “giving is better than receiving.” As parents you can model this in many different ways. You can take your children to a homeless soup kitchen where they can give out bags of homemade biscuits or take them to a nursing home where they will learn to love older people. There are so many needy people that the possibilities are endless. It’s a wonderful way to get children thinking about others and not just themselves.
You have probably already taught your children to say, “I’m sorry,” but it’s good to re-visit the basics and talk about it together as a family, in a safe and open way. Demonstrate the art of saying sorry and show them by example that it’s OK to make a mistake—even a downright horrid one—as long as they genuinely offer an apology and make every effort not to do that same thing again. Encourage your children to think of one or two examples of when they had to apologise and how it made them feel.
Demonstrate to your children how body language can often speak louder than words. We found this to be a really fun night and used both positive and negative examples to illustrate the point. The activity will involve your kids having to guess what the different gestures are.
Over the next few days, you can all have fun observing your friends and family, watching which body language they use. You can also take notice of how it makes you all feel: happy, sad, ignored, or even uncared for.
This is a fun activity but also powerful in that it helps your kids become aware of body language and how it affects us all.