Eddard Stark Game of Thrones
Family gatherings are stressful. Whether you’re attending a family reunion, celebrating a birthday or going away for the holidays, there’s always a pressure to bond with everyone and somehow remain cool, calm and collected around different types of people during emotionally-charged situations.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself “never again,” take a breath and try one of these activities before skipping out on your next family gathering. You might actually have fun, cut the tension and (gasp) look forward to the next event.


Father son planting
1. Give Back Together
What could be more powerful than making the world a better place with your family? Volunteering allows you to spend quality time with each other while experiencing the joys of giving back to those in need. When you’re choosing an activity, consider what things the kids would enjoy most and go to sites like Volunteer Match, Hands On Network, and Idealist for ideas. If they love the outdoors, volunteer to help cleanup a local park or plant trees/flowers. The animal obsessed can help gather supplies for an animal shelter. And if you’ve got a bunch of little prodigies, organize an hour to perform for the patients at a nursing home or hospital. We love to eat, so our family helps the less fortunate by hosting and volunteering at the annual 5k with In My Father’s Kitchen.


2. Solve a Puzzle
If you want to get everyone moving but don’t want to organize a whole 5k event, make and untangle a Human Knot. Stand in a circle and hold hands with someone else in the circle who isn’t right next to you. Without letting go, untangle the knot by climbing, ducking, turning through and around each other. Too easy? Blindfold one or more of your family members. Groups of 8-10 people make for optimal fun and success.


Astronaut on cargo
3. Create New Art
Play the Picture Pieces Game for something even less physical. Have one person choose a detailed but well known picture or cartoon, keep it a secret from the group, and cut it up into as many equal squares as there are family members. Each person gets one piece of this “puzzle” and creates an exact copy of their piece but five times bigger than the original size. When everyone is done reproducing a larger version of their puzzle piece, the group has to assemble the pieces together to form the original picture. As a problem-solving activity, this demonstrates how each member contributes their own part to the overall family dynamic. Great picture ideas: The Seven Wonders of The World or scenes from Pixar movies.


Kermit reading a book

4. Build a Story
Family bonding activities tend to elicit more eye rolls than excitement, from both kids and adults alike. But, throw in this problem-solving challenge and watch how quickly everyone wants to be a part of the solution. Create a cohesive story with the beautiful picture book “Zoom” by Istvan Banyai. No need to purchase it, you can get it here for free. It features 30 sequential pictures that work together to form a narrative. Print the pages out and give one picture to each family member. They can only look at their own picture and must not show anyone else. After everyone takes time to study what they have, the family can talk to each other and discuss what they think is going on in their images and decide the order needed to create a unique group story. If you have less than 30 people, some may get more than one picture.


Old family photos

5. Document Your Family History
Make your family timeline together. Tape up several pieces of poster board in a row and draw a horizontal line. Have everyone take turns filling in basic dates like birthdays, weddings, graduations, and even the date for the creation of your family timeline.

Beach girls in a frame

6. Play Human Bingo
It’s like bingo but with humans…it’s human bingo! Sketch up a bingo board on pieces of paper with questions in each of the squares. Each family member must find a relative who can answer “yes” to a question and then sign their name in that square. No one person can sign for two questions. Play until someone gets a “Bingo!” Great questions to ask: Who has been a competitive athlete? Who knows how to tango? Who started a business in their teen years? Who shares the same zodiac sign as you? Here are some more ideas.


Baby laughing reading a story

7. Share Your Story
Use the classic icebreaker “Two Truths and a Lie” to find out the crazier things about your family. Every family member writes three things about themselves – two true statements and one lie. Then each person takes a turn to read their own statements and everyone else tries to guess which one is the lie.

Gatherings don’t have to be boring and repetitive. Get everyone out of their heads and create situations where your family can interact, converse and have fun with each other. Rethinking how you engage with the people around you can open dialogues, strengthen bonds and form positive experiences they, too, can pass on to their friends and loved ones for years to come.