Date: November 1, 2011
Connecting as a family should be easier than ever, but hectic lives and work schedules often impede our best intentions. Take time to really connect and nurture your children, however, and you very well may instill attitudes that help them become happier, more compassionate people.
We have a Wii, but need a 'we'
Clinician Michael Ungar, social worker and therapist, discusses why it's important for children to feel noticed and loved to embrace "we" instead of "me" in his book The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids. Ungar says parents often attempt to connect through buying expensive material items, by becoming too permissive, or even by overprotecting. But the key to connecting is offering opportunities for compassion because, he says, "Give a child a chance to connect, and she will." To connect, we need to nurture.
Compassion, happiness and connection
Psychologist Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be, warns that parents frequently miss opportunities to connect and teach valuable moral lessons to kids.
"Too many of us are raising children first and foremost to be happy, and we are failing at that project — rather than instilling in them what the novelist William Faulkner thought we as a species needed to prevail: 'a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance,'" Weissbourd writes.
Parents mean to nurture compassionate, morally responsible kids, but our culture points us to make more money, be more educated and even live in a sunnier climate. In fact, as positive psychology researcher Martin Seligman reveals in Authentic Happiness, those things don't matter much at all when it comes to happiness.
Try the following 10 simple approaches to everyday life to nurture your children:
1. Laugh until your cheeks ache.
The latest research supports laughter as a way to decrease stress hormones and boost the immune system. As author Daniel Pink points out in A Whole New Mind, "Laughter is a social activity — and the evidence is vast that people who have regular, satisfying connections to other people are healthier and happier." Tell jokes, watch comedy and, most importantly, model a good sense of humor yourself.
2. Play for your health.
You may register backyard football or Monopoly at the dining room table as old-fashioned "just-in-the-movies" scenarios reserved for "other" families. Don't. Get outside. Touch each other. Fall in the mud. Laugh out loud. It's not time spent being "unproductive." It is life.
3. Bring the spiritual home.
Whether you attend religious services or not, be intentional about discussing and modeling the values of your faith. It is easy to get caught up in the realm of the physical world, so it takes a conscious effort on your part to provide balance.
4. Frequently provide a stage.
Habitually ask your children what they think they do well and have them demonstrate it. Kids love showing you new skills and strengths. Your glowing response makes them feel 10 feet tall.
5. Leave work behind.
Easier said than done. Take as many family vacations as your employment allows. The opportunities that spring from time away from the grind relaxing with your children are pure gold and will add up to memories for a lifetime. At the end of life, no one wishes he or she had taken fewer vacations.
6. Eat for three.
Set a new rule for family meals: Everybody is expected at the table for a meal at least three times a week. While it may not always be realistic to squeeze in three dinners, think about Saturday breakfasts, Sunday brunches or Wednesday late-night cookies and milk. At our house, we have Italian Friday Nights where we are often joined by a few of our children's friends.
7. Time always matters.
Give children your time. So often we underestimate how much our kids want to spend time with us. It's important to carve out family time even if you get the message their friends have passed you on the influence scale.
8. Listen to highs and lows.
Implement this best/worst exercise into mealtime conversation. Ask your children to identify their best and worst daily moments. (Don't use this time to lecture if their worst moment happens to be failing an exam.) Open your heart and connect with the feelings they express. If you haven't tried this, you may be surprised at how much you'll learn about your kids' inner lives.
9. Create a "We."
Rally your children to help with a project. Whether it is helping an elderly neighbor with gardening, painting the family room, volunteering with a group or organizing the garage, join forces and see that the fruits of your labor extend way beyond an afternoon of hard work.
10. Write love notes.
Words are powerful and sometimes easier expressed on paper. Fill the page with dreamy thoughts, your wishes and hopes, and what makes your kids awesome. Leave the notes on their pillows, and know that what you write will touch them deeply, whether they mention it or not.
Michele Ranard is a freelance writer who is passionate about helping families live more emotionally healthy lives. She has two children, a master's in counseling, and a blog at http://cheekychicmama.blogspot.com.