10 Simple Ways to Have a Happier Family

Wish you could slow down and take the time to really connect with your kids? Here's how to slip small moments of love and closeness into the busiest days.

Mother And Son Lying In Bed Together Looking At Each Other Laughing. One example of connecting with kids.

If your family is like mine, each day is so defined by routines and responsibilities that every minute seems 100 percent accounted for. You can’t escape from such a full and absorbing life, nor would you necessarily want to. But there are ways to sneak into those busy days some moments of ease and closeness-spontaneous fun, better talk, a change of pace that breaks up stress and moodiness, small connections that encourage kids to feel good about themselves and make you and your partner feel more confident and competent parents. These instant happiness boosters take little time, money, or planning, but they can make a big difference in your life.

1. Snuggle Time

Take advantage of Saturday mornings to have all the kids come in bed with you for a fifteen-minute cuddle. Most days, you’ve got to leap up and hit the ground running in order to get everyone where they have to be on time. But one day a week, try not to schedule anything early so you can just hang out and feel close to each other.

2. Mood Music

Here’s a tip from the folks who make TV shows and commercials: Use background music to set the mood. When cabin fever strikes and the atmosphere around the house gets tense, pop some lively music in the CD player and watch the emotional barometer rise. Play old-time rock ‘n’ roll, or unearth some of your own teen favorites. “I play my parents’ old polka albums,” says one mom. “The kids think it’s hilarious. Soon they’re leaping and dancing all over the living room, and fights are forgotten.”

3. Indirect Compliments

When you want to praise your child, occasionally let her overhear you say something good about her to someone else. Sometimes kids discount direct praise as empty or embarrassing. An overheard compliment can be a powerful boost to self-esteem because your child knows that it’s from the heart.

4. The Never-ending Game

Set aside ten minutes at the same time each day to play a game with your child, one you can return to daily. Some families play a round of backgammon. Others work on a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle. Reading a couple of pages of a story is popular with younger kids. The ritual aspect of the activity and brief time-out from stressful demands help kids and parents calm down and connect with each other.

5. One at a Time

Once a week, allow each of your children to have you all to himself for an hour, doing anything that the child wants to do. On Tuesday evening, your three-year-old may want to play dress-up; on Wednesday, your older child might request that you sort baseball cards or spend time together on the computer. When your kids know they’ll each have a long turn to get your undivided attention, they learn to respect each other’s special times as well.

6. Counting Blessings

Take some moments in the evening, at dinner or bedtime to acknowledge the good things in your life. Don’t be heavy-handed about it. Just say, “You know, the nicest thing happened today…” and ask your child and other family members to share any good things that happened to them. Counting blessings is a way to end the day on a positive note.

7. A Very Merry Half-Birthday

Mark this mid-year milestone in a lighthearted, inexpensive way. For instance, it’s fun to bake half a cake, give half a pair of socks as a present, and put up half a birthday sign. Any reason to celebrate, no matter how small, lifts the spirits and breaks up the ordinary routine.

8. Sunday-Night Soiree

I’m sure that, like most families, you have experienced the letdown that occurs as the weekend draws to a close. You also probably have a refrigerator full of leftovers. On Sunday evening, invite a few neighbors with kids over for dinner and have them bring along their leftovers. The food may be an eclectic mix of cold turkey, ham, Chinese food, and parts of pies served on paper plates. This low-key but festive gathering takes the edge off the end-of-weekend blues.

9. Media Blackouts

For one night each week, declare that no one in the house will turn on televisions, computers, or stereos. The uninterrupted downtime means there’s more of an opportunity to play truly interactive games, the old-fashioned kind in which two people actually communicate. Think of a variety of ways to have low-tech fun, such as playing musical instruments and singing, reading aloud, telling jokes, or just talking.

10. Think Small

Remember the bumper sticker that read HUG A TREE? Why not make some time to help your child appreciate the natural world around him? Let him try to wrap his arms around a tree, stop and smell the roses, or go outside and gaze at the stars in the evening sky. Think of these activities not as educational but as ways to let your child feel part of something greater than himself. So much in our society and child-raising practices tends to encourage kids to feel too big, powerful, exceptional and alone. The truth is, children are less worried and more secure when they know they’re not the center of the universe but a small part of the whole.

This article was excerpted with permission from Parents magazine.

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