Dr. Alice Boyes suggest seven smart technologies for warming the emotional tone.
1. Start and end well.
Research focused on couples tells us that overall relationship health is reflected in the quality of greetings and partings. Logically, this also applies to parent/child relationships. When you part or reunite with family members (such as when your child walks in the door from school), turn these into mindful moments. Stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, and stroke your child’s hair as you hug them.
2. Praise each other for effort rather than traits.
“You worked so hard on that puzzle” is much more constructive than “You’re so smart”, because research shows that effort-based praise makes us more likely to react well to life’s inevitable disappointments. It teaches us to persist rather than give up when something is difficult.
Parents have a natural tendency to try to boost low self-esteem kids using trait-based praise. But this can backfire because the low self-esteem child may develop a sense that they’re only valued because of high achievement. Since life is full of successes and failures, this leaves them vulnerable to feelings of shame when they experience setbacks. Switching from mostly trait-based praise to effort-based praise only requires a subtle shift in how you communicate, and the difference in effectiveness
3. Encourage predictable, pleasant routines to create calm.
Enjoyable rituals are important for regulating moods. How can you create family times that boost positive emotions? Choose an activity in which everyone can participate and no-one feels under pressure – such as preparing and enjoying a cooked breakfast together on Sunday mornings. Rushing causes everyone to feel stressed, so put some thought into how you can change routines to avoid any unnecessary tension.
4. Set aside wind-down time at night.
When children are babies, parents make an effort to have a firm routine at night, but we often focus less on this as our children get older. Try making a timeline for each adult and child in the family that shows what they can do to relax and get ready for sleep. If some family members struggle to wind down in time for bed, try half an hour of reading in bed, or having a place in your home where phones go at 8pm each night.
5. Use technology to increase your family’s bond.
For example, if you’re planning an overseas trip, you might start a family blog to which all family members contribute. You can do this for free using sites such as www.wordpress.com or www.tumblr.com. Each person should have a role based on their strengths and interests, such as uploading photos or posting updates to Facebook.
6. Have a balanced day.
Focus time, play time, connecting time, physical time, time in, down time and sleep time are the seven categories of daily activities that help people think clearly and stay well regulated, say the creators of the Healthy Mind Platter (www.mindplatter.com). ‘Down time’ refers to when you’re not focused on any activity and your mind is free to wander and recharge. ‘Connecting time’ can refer to connecting with people or nature. ‘Time in’ refers to paying attention to our internal thoughts, feelings and the sensations of being in our body. Try setting up a weekly checklist with space for each family member to tick off which of the seven categories they completed in the day; even doing a few minutes of an activity counts. Monitor one week out of every three months to get a picture of how each person is balanced, and what may need attention.
7. Find out more.
For more tips for a happy home and family, check out Happier at Home (Hachette, 2013) by Gretchen Rubin. In this project memoir, the author tests psychology advice in her own family over the period of one school year.
Alice Boyes, PhD, is author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.