3. Hold Family Meetings
Time together is at such a premium in most households that many families, like the Martins, hold regular family meetings so everyone can air and resolve the week’s grievances as well as share the good things that happened.
When the Martins gather on Friday night, they also take the opportunity to anticipate what’s scheduled for the week ahead. That way they eliminate (mostly!) those last-minute anxieties over whether someone has soccer shoes for the first practice, the books for a report, or a ride to a music lesson.
4. Encourage Loving Feelings
Everyday life is full of opportunities to establish loving connections with our kids. Researchers have found that parents who spend time playing, joking with, and sharing their own thoughts and feelings with their kids have children who are more friendly, generous, and loving.
After all, giving love fosters love, and what convinces our kids that we love them more than our willingness to spend time with them? Many parents say that often they feel most in tune emotionally with their kids when they just hang out together — sprawling on the bed to watch TV, walking down the block together to mail a letter, talking on long car rides when kids know they have a parent’s complete attention. At these times the hurt feelings and the secret fears are finally mentioned.
Part of encouraging loving feelings is insisting that kids treat others, including siblings, with kindness, respect, and fairness — at least some of the time. In one family, kids write on a chart in the kitchen at the end of each day the name of someone who did something nice for them.
5. Create Rituals
Setting aside special times of the day or week to come together as a family gives children a sense of continuity — that certain feelings stay the same even as the kids change and grow. For many families, like my friend Frances’, that means regularly observing religious rituals. To her family, Sunday morning means going to Mass and having hot chocolate afterwards at the town café. Others create their own rituals to anchor the week. Michael’s family celebrates with a regular Scrabble and pizza party every Friday night; Dawn’s goes to the movies. Holiday rituals give children points in the year to look forward to.
6. Handle Challenges With Compassion
Home life today is not always stable and secure. Even the best marriages have fights, economic woes, emotional ups-and-downs. Parents divorce, stepfamilies form, and these changes challenge the most compassionate parents. But troubles are part of the human condition. Loving families don’t ignore them — they try to create a strong emotional climate despite them.
In handling parental conflicts, for example, we can let kids know when everything has been resolved, as Denise and Peter did after a loud dispute in the kitchen during which voices were raised and tears flowed. After making up, they explained to their kids, “Sometimes we disagree and lose our tempers, too. But now we’ve worked it out. We’re sorry that you overheard our fight.”
7. Schedule Parent-Only Time
Parents are the ones who create a home’s atmosphere. When we’re upset about how much money we owe, worried about downsizing at the company where we work, or angry at a spouse, that charges the emotional atmosphere in ways kids find threatening. As one friend said plaintively, “Parents need special time, too.” Taking a long walk together to talk without our kids may go a long way to soothe worries and regular “parent-only” dates help us reexperience the love that brought us together in the first place.