THE POWER OF FUN
By Dan Coulter
We tend to remember extremes:
our best days and worst days.
You usually can't control the worst days. Bad stuff happens when it
But you can make more days some of your family's best days by recognizing
and harnessing the power of fun. It can bring your family closer, help you
teach your kids what you want them to learn and get you all through tough
Just about everyone knows someone who's fun to be around. Maybe it's an
aunt or uncle or someone you've worked with. Someone who seems to generate
laughter and good times.
Picture yourself playing that role for your family.
Maybe you're already a walking fun factory. If not, and this just doesn't
sound like you, hear me out. I'm not talking about a personality transplant
or suggesting that you assume a forced goofiness. I'm talking about
focusing on the part of us all that enjoys having fun. Wherever you are on
the fun scale, you can probably turn it up a notch.
I have, at different times in my life, been Mr. Fun and a real downer to be
around. Finding ways to snap myself out of a bad mood became a crucial
skill when my kids came into my life. Especially when I was working long
hours and only saw them at the end of the day and on weekends. I couldn't
afford to waste any time with them moping around.
Every family is different, but let me share a few things we've done to
When my kids were little, I never did learn to.orgpletely leave work
pressures at the office, but I'd juice myself up on the way home thinking
about being with them and my wife, Julie.
When I hit the door, I'd pick up both Drew and Jessie and dance around the
hallway, singing a little rapid-fire nonsense song I'd made up. They got a
tremendous kick out of it, and it set a great tone for the rest of the
evening. I found out early that things are only as special as you make
When things are tough or strained, a little fun can help turn things around.
I remember working in my home-office on a weekend and hearing Julie, calling
up the stairs, asking me if I could take some time and help her. She was
dealing with housework and our two toddler kids and she was more than a bit
exasperated. I grabbed a portable tape recorder and shoved in a tape of the
William Tell Overture, also used as the theme from "The Lone Ranger" on
television. Many of you may recognize this as standard "rescue" music on
old film soundtracks. Anyway, I rushed down the stairs like a.orgic book
superhero with the William Tell Overture playing at full blast. I don't
remember what I was working on at the time, but I know putting it aside and
making a big entrance to immediately pitch in on family matters was a huge
hit with Julie and the kids.
Playing family games was fun for us. I think one of the keys to success is
monkeying with the rules so everyone can play. You don't have to throw the
rules out the window, just modify them so young kids or those with some
challenges can fully participate.
It's a hoot to play Scrabble with made-up words allowed - as long as they're
inventive and you make up a fun meaning.
Pictionary, a kind of drawing version of "charades," was our favorite for a
while. My kids still kid me about a duck I drew that looked like anything
One of Julie's real strengths is.orging up with great gifts. She puts real
thought into family presents. She also loves to bake and present the kids
with care packages of brownies, cookies, cheese straws and such. No mama
ever showered her kids with more encouragement than my wife - and I can
always count on hearing her laughing when she's on the phone with Drew or
We also had a lot of fun with bedtime stories. My son and daughter were
born 17 months apart, so they were close enough in age to enjoy many of the
same things at the same time.
When Jessie was three, she was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF). Since
that time, she's done a session of physical therapy once or twice a day to
help clear her lungs. For years, Julie would do the morning session with
Jessie and I'd do the evening session. To help the time go faster, I'd bring
Drew into the room during therapy and tell them both stories.
While the therapy sessions were mandatory, they gave us a chance to have fun
every night during story time. I decided to tape record the stories so I
could offer the kids "reruns" when I felt too tired to.orge up with new
Not that the stories were all original. I borrowed liberally from any book,
movie play, TV show or cartoon I'd ever seen for ideas. The tape recordings
are testaments to how tired I was many nights, because you can hear me yawn
frequently during the stories. But those recordings are a treasure now.
Not so much for what I'm saying, but for the laughs and questions and
suggestions from my kids that are sprinkled throughout the soundtrack.
There's a story on one tape which features Drew as a prince and Jessie as a
princess. In passing, my voice notes that Princess Jessie has on a
beautiful dress. I move quickly on toward a peak of adventure when Jessie
interrupts and hauls me back. "What about the dwess?" her little voice
chirps. She had her own priorities. Adventure could, and did, wait for a
detailed description of the princess dress.
The stories featured Jessie's stuffed teddy bear, "Bearly." Bearly Bear
would routinely pop into Jessie's room and lead Jessie and Drew through a
magic door in Jessie's closet to the land of the Bear King. The Bear King's
realm was frequently invaded by evil wizards, who'd have to be out-smarted
and banished by Jessie, Drew and Bearly. Professional note: Evil wizards
are particularly vulnerable to having dirty socks thrust beneath their
noses. It makes them swoon so you can knock off their wizard hats and cut
them off from their sources of power. You get the idea.
When my wife and I take long car trips, I like to listen to some of these
old tapes and hear Drew and Jessie whoop it up in the background when an
evil wizard gets a particularly smelly sock shoved in his face at a pivotal
point in the story and goes into hysterics.
So, if you have any flair for story telling, I'd milk the dirty sock bit for
all it's worth. It's killer material for four and five-year-olds.
And if storytelling's not your forte, no problem. Your local library is
chock-full of great children's books you can read to your kids. You can
even change the names of characters in the books and substitute your kids'
names. Kids love hearing about themselves and librarians can be a huge help
in pointing you toward fun books in the right age range. If you have more
than one child, it's a great way to help them bond.
When families have a child with a disability, dealing with disability issues
for a son or daughter can suck up a lot of time and make your other children
feel neglected. Including all your kids in story time can help you wire
into their brains that it's fun to be together. Not to mention the
opportunity to reinforce any other lessons you want to teach in the stories
you tell or read. Having said this, we also found it was important to
routinely spend one-on-one time with each of our kids.
We had a bit of a special situation. After we found out Jessie had CF, Drew
was diagnosed with a series of.orgmunications-related disorders. He finally
got a correct diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Even before we knew he had
AS, we were trying to address his special needs. So because both our kids
required extra attention of different sorts, we didn't have a situation
where one got overshadowed by the other's needs.
This didn't feel like a plus at the time. It felt like being in a ship that
was in constant danger of being swamped. But looking back, giving attention
to both kids helped bring them and our family closer together. And we had
a lot of fun along the way. Fun has made it easier to relate to the kids
when they've gotten frustrated, especially when we've needed to persuade
them to do something for their health or well-being. Fun is like oil that
helps the family gears mesh smoothly.
Fun has been an important factor in our marriage, too. I heard a statistic
the other day that the majority of parents who have kids on the autism
spectrum get divorced. Finding ways to have fun while you're dealing with
overwhelming pressure is like a life preserver in a storm. It helped save
my wife and I more than once.
Today, Drew and Jessie are both doing well in college. They're living on
their respective campuses and we could not be more proud. They keep in
contact and support each other. We love having them home on school breaks
because they're both so much fun to be around.
And while they deserve every credit for ove.orging their challenges, I like
to think that part of the reason they're successful has to do with story
time and mama laughs and poorly drawn ducks and the power of fun.
Because things are only as special as you make them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of "MANNERS FOR THE
REAL WORLD: Basic Social Skills" and other videos for parents and children.
You can find additional articles on his website:
Copyright 2005 Dan Coulter Used By Permission All Rights Reserved