Lately several families have inquired how to help their families work. By work they are asking how to have a well-adjusted, healthy family. Many people in today’s modern world want to know how to deal with blended families, divorced families, one parent families, or families of different faiths, to name just a few examples. These families are searching for methods and skills to improve and focus on strong family values which have been proven successful in past generations. This article will focus on three building blocks that high-functioning families share and have in common: rituals, honesty, and using “I” language.
High functioning families have rituals. Today’s world is fast paced and flooded with technology which can take an enormous toll on a family’s well-being. Rituals help ground our children and families. Introducing rituals may help reduce stress, allow families to spend quality time together talking and enjoying being part of something “larger” than themselves. It is up to individual families to make the changes. Remember, even small changes may improve your family’s emotional health and well-being.
Let’s start with the ritual of dinner. Research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders. Additional research shows children who enjoy family meals have a larger vocabulary, better manners, healthier diets and higher self-esteem. Fewer families today eat together, especially the busier families. Several studies have shown only 17 percent of families eat together, even when everyone is home! Remember dinner is about spending time together.
Be creative. Instead of feeling guilty about not having a “six o’clock thing,” remember it’s about coming together. Maybe breakfast is a better time, or snack or dessert time in the evening. The point is to have at least 30-45 minutes of family time. This is time to check in with each other, talk about world or community events. It can be Monday pizza night, Chinese Tuesday take out, or ice cream and cookie time. You get the point. It is about creating a sense of attachment, being a part of something greater than themselves, a family. This is not about beating yourselves up for everything you do wrong. Don’t set yourself up for failure and insist on 7 nights a week, it won’t happen. Be realistic about how many days will help your family, 3 or 4 is better than none! It is not about the dinner; it is about the family!
Introduce the game “Do You Know?” Meal time is a great time to ask: Where did your grandparents grow up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? What sports/activities did they participate? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know what was happening in the world the day you were born? This simple game allows families to share stories and learn about other generations. We rarely have generations eating at one table and this simple game creates a sense of connection.
Here are a few other possible rituals: family game night with charades, family plays, or word of the day. Ask the questions “What went well this week” and “What did not go well this week?” Let everyone participate without any judgement. The kids might complain at first but you will be amazed how much they enjoy this time!
Teach your children about feelings and how to use their words. Teach them how to use “I” language. It is essential and beneficial in every area of their lives and something they will be able to use for a life time. Allow children to tell you how they feel. Starting sentences with “I” gives ownership and empowers children to know and express their feelings. When children learn to state their feelings they learn how to express themselves in a healthy way. Parents need to listen to their children and allow feelings to be expressed and not punish for having feelings. It might not change the situation or the consequences but they will feel heard. Human beings want to be seen, heard and validated. Using I or we are signs of a healthy relationship. One way to avert fighting and create defensive positions is to stop saying you and begin with I.
Be honest with your children. Many of the families helped in my practice are dealing with some form of substance abuse or addiction. When people accept the medical model it is important to give our children valuable genetic information. Knowledge is power. Families who hide the fact that grandparents, aunts or uncles were people suffering from addiction do a disservice to their children. Genetics is only one factor for substance abuse and the children deserve to know they are predisposed for some type of addiction. Remember, there are many types of “ics”: alcoholic, exerciseaholic, workaholic, etc. If a family has an “ic” the idea of moderation needs to be part of the family discussion. Children learn by example and from their role models. If they see their parents deal with stress by drinking, doing drugs, or working more, you are teaching them that is how to deal with stressful situations and they might follow your lead. Children need to learn healthy coping skills, teach them. If you don’t know any or if you need to learn new ones, please ask for help. This also teaches children asking for help is not a weakness, rather a strength.
In this fast paced world take time to enjoy your family. Learn to sit down, without any type of technology and tell stories and listen to one another. Parenting is not about being perfect. Parenting is giving your children the tools to be happy, healthy, well rounded adults. The suggestions in this article are that, just suggestions. Any gesture you make to tuning into your family and teaching values will be rewarded as the family transitions through its many phases.
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