5 Steps to a Happier Home
I listen from the laundry room as my kids get lost in another animal adventure. Their voices are quiet at first, as they negotiate the theme of the day. After about ten minutes, they decide to take the animal school on a field trip. Almost immediately, their voices echo through the house and laughter fills the air. They are in character, lost in their collective imagination, and they will remain in this state for the better part of an hour.
It isn't always so perfect, of course. Sometimes they can't figure out what to play and the negotiations become heated. Sometimes I have to stop them early (almost against my will) for things like homework, soccer, or dance. Sometimes they just need to play alone.
More often than not, however, they find their sweet spot. They work through their differences and find a way to make it work because playing together is fun and they genuinely enjoy being together.
We work at it as a family, though. What might look perfect on Instagram is the result of all four of us working through the hard stuff together.
There's a misconception out there that happiness is the absence of stress – that happiness is too far to reach because life is hard and that's just the way it is. It's quite the opposite, actually.
Family happiness does not occur because families don't face stress and adversity. Family happiness occurs because families work through the ups and downs together.
In my new book, The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World, I talk a lot about the importance of helping kids learn to work through the hard stuff. As important as it is to empower kids to cope with stress, however, it is equally important for parents to consider the overall stress level of the family in an effort to work on family harmony.
Families will face stress and siblings will argue, but there a few things you can do increase family happiness.
Talk about emotions:
Emotions should be a frequent topic of conversation within families. I know that life is busy and sometimes kissing a scrape or minimizing an argument seems like the best way to restore happiness, but that's the equivalent of slapping a Band Aid on a skinned knee to mask the pain.
It's important to slow down and acknowledge emotions. When we do this, we help kids learn to process what they're feeling and figure out ways to feel better on their own. We also show kids that feelings matter. The less we minimize, the faster our children will learn that we all experience emotional shifts and there is no shame in seeking help.
With all of the information about the dangers of helicopter parenting out there, there seems to be a trend toward completely stepping back from our children. Sure, kids need to work through their differences and they are capable of settling an argument. But there are benefits to working through the hard stuff together.
When we put family unity in the spotlight, we teach our kids to look out for one another. Yes, they will argue along the way, but they will also learn to find solutions instead of tattling or running off and slamming doors.
Kids don't come into this world with a toolbox full of coping skills, we have to guide them and help practice conflict resolution skills.
Make time for play:
We live in a busy, overscheduled world, and many kids are on the fast track to the finish line. The result? Kids are high on stress and low on downtime. This is a mistake. Kids of all ages need time to play. They need to get out in nature. They need to build forts. They need to create new things and use their imaginations. They need to tap into creativity, and play will get them there.
My house is a mess on a good day. I can clean for three hours straight and you'll still find play scenes all over the place. It's a playful house. It's a happy house. It's a home.
Prioritize family time:
My husband has a busy work schedule. Most weeks he doesn't take a true day off, and he tends to travel for months at a time. But we make the most of the time we have. When it's family time, we shut the rest of the world out.
We can't let schedules, sports, and work get in the way of building our relationships. Family time is when we strengthen our bonds and truly get to know one another. It plays a critical role in family happiness.
Focus on empathy:
Empathy seems to be a hot topic these days, and for good reason. If we want to raise happy, healthy kids, we need to raise kids who care about and take the time to understand others. That begins at home.
Instead of handing out consequences when an argument occurs, take the time to get to the root of the problem and talk about that. Spend time caring together to increase overall family harmony.
No one is happy every second of every day, but we can increase overall happiness by learning to cope with the hard stuff and supporting our kids through the ups and downs that life has to offer.