Tolstoy was right—happy families are all alike. At least they share certain basic characteristics. Here are a few of the foundations experts say are key to a loving, cheerful home:
1. Create cuddle time. You can’t overdose on hugs. It’s important for families to spend time snuggling in bed together, reading, or talking or playing games. This kind of positive touch helps kids feel loved and secure, plus it’s fun for parents!
2. Sing together, stay together. The Von Trapp family had it right—singing together is a terrific way to bond as a family. Make up your own words to your favorite tunes; dance around the living room with your children; and use music to motivate room cleaning.
3. Make room for fun. While it’s good to encourage your children’s schoolwork and extracurricular activities, too much emphasis on them can create tension and anxiety. Make time for activities that have no purpose other than to allow family members to enjoy spending time together. Play games, plot surprise parties, take long walks, explore a cave, plant a garden, or cook.
4. Exercise together. Take a run or a bike ride to a local park with your child. At the park, you can take time to relax while your child plays in the sandbox or on the seesaw. This kind of outing allows parents to model healthy behavior, get exercise, and spend time with their kids.
5. Create healthy habits. Junk food high in salt and sugar may taste appealing, but it will play havoc with your family’s health and moods. Create healthy snacking habits by leaving out bowls of fruit, cut-up vegetables, nuts, or dried fruit.
6. Cook together. This is another way to get kids interested in healthy foods. While you’re whipping up dinner with your children you are encouraging healthy eating habits as well as teaching cooking, measurement, teamwork, and improvisational skills. Also, kids who help makes meals are more likely to eat them.
7. Reward good behavior. It’s important to reinforce your child’s good behavior. But there’s no need to be extravagant. A trip to the humane shelter, a visit to the zoo, a movie and popcorn, or a slightly later bedtime can be good motivators.
8. Read and write together. Make time every day for reading. Read aloud to the kids, or have the whole family spend time with their own books, or listen to an audiobook. Cuddling up on the couch can make it even cozier. It’s also important for children to spend some time writing each day.
9. Go one-on-one. Parents with more than one child should try to spend a little time interacting just with one child each day, even if it’s just for ten minutes. That special time with a parent helps the child feel special and to bond with you.
10. Have routines. Kids thrive when they know what to expect. So bedtime routines that involve bath, stories, and songs before sleep can minimize nighttime misbehavior. A morning routine can also help you get out the door faster with little fuss.
11. Appreciate each other. Find little ways to show how much you value each other. One idea is to do a little happy dance every time a child returns from school or a parent from work.
12. Remember sorry isn’t enough. When one of your children hurts the feelings of a sibling, it’s not enough to apologize. That child must also find a way to help heal the hurt she has caused, by helping with a chore or sharing a toy.
13. Prioritize your marriage The most important thing you can do for your child is to love your spouse and to demonstrate that love. This models a good relationship for your child and helps to keep your marriage intact.