Creating Good Family Habits

As a parent, I am very concerned with making sure that our home is based on the well-being of our family. I strive to make sure that we all eat the right foods and limit the foods that don’t promote good health. I have kept cable television out of my house so that we aren’t stuck in front of the TV in the evening for hours on end. I have a strict 9 o’clock bedtime for the two of them so that they get a proper 10 hours of sleep a night. But sometimes, even with my best intentions, life gets in the way of keeping to the simple guidelines I have laid out. Bedtime gets later and later as we juggle sports, dinner, and homework. A guilty trip every now and then to Taco Bell is made to save me the trouble of deciding what meat to thaw out at the last moment – again. Video games are played longer than the allotted time allowed, something just as bad as watching TV for hours on end. We all do it. I’m sure that many families can relate to all of this. And sometimes amendments to the rules of the house need to be flexible to fit in with the ever-changing needs of daily life. But when the amendments seem to be the rule instead of the exception, it’s time to get back on track. With a few simple changes, your family can establish habits that are important to maintain balance in the home.

Making Quality Time
Turn off your phone, shut down your computer, and switch off the TV. With the distractions that plague all of us in our day to day lives, human interaction is something that often gets put on the back burner. Look back at this last week and think about the time you have spent with each of your children that could be considered a good amount of time that was spent solely in interaction with them. If you are struggling to recollect when that time was, know that you are not alone. Even if you are a parent that stays home during the day with the kids, it is easy to neglect enjoying one-on-one time with your child every single day. If you have to, take out your calendar and schedule playtime with your child. Become acquainted with their favorite game to play, knowing that their “favorite” changes moment to moment. Turn the radio off in the car and use it as time to share and bond with your children. Read to them before bedtime – even preteens can benefit from a story that the two of you share in those few minutes before the lights go out. If you have more than one child, make it a point to give each one at least 15 minutes of your devoted attention every day. Quality time strengthens the relationship between parents and children, and will help a child to grow up feeling loved and able to make better choices in life.

Sharing Regular Family Meals
In a busy household, dinner might be grabbed on the go, eaten in front of the TV, or gobbled at the counter or in separate rooms. But there is something magical about the time that is spent as a family sitting around a table, enjoying a meal together. Family mealtime is the perfect opportunity to go over each person’s day and to share what’s going on in each person’s life. It’s a good time to help children develop eating manners and know how to use their utensils properly. One thing our family occasionally does is schedule a “candle-lit dinner”. We set the table to the nines, prepare something special, and eat over candlelight, drinking sparkling cider from wine glasses. To them, it is a special occasion they look forward to always. But to me, it is a chance to teach them lessons on how to properly eat with a napkin placed in the lap, holding their fork properly, and eating in small bites with manners. Maybe a home-cooked meal every night isn’t exactly in the cards. Shortcuts can be arranged by freezing food for a future date so that more time can be spent at the table before everyone goes in their separate directions. And don’t underestimate the power of the slow cooker! Throw in the ingredients in the morning, and by the evening your house will smell heavenly and dinner is ready in a snap. Is your toddler pushing aside the green beans you fixed for her? Don’t let a power struggle get in the way of your family mealtime. As long as your child is eating enough throughout the day, skipping dinner due to pickiness won’t cause her to starve. Sometimes, however, dinner just isn’t a feasible time to get the whole family together at once. That’s ok. Breakfasts are also a great time to strengthen the family bond. And remember, it isn’t a perfect process. If your family is done eating by the time you have served everyone their food, chopped up the meat into bite-size pieces, and are finally sitting down to eat, that’s ok. You are establishing a family habit that will benefit everyone for years to come. Studies show that kids who grow up in a home where the family meal is regularly celebrated are less likely to smoke, abuse alcohol and drugs, suffer from depression, make better choices in their love lives, and are healthier in general. Keep that in mind as you reheat your plate while the dishes are being cleared.

Getting the Kids to Clean Up
Once again the kids have gone to bed and you are left staring at what was once your living room and is now a consideration for the town’s next landfill. Evening time that could have been spent preparing for tomorrow and unwinding from the day’s activities is now being spent tackling a mountain of toys and books and little lethal weapons underfoot, otherwise known as Legos. Or worse, the mess is left unattended to and only grows bigger and bigger, your sanity and peace of mind shrinking with the growth. A simple solution? Get the kids to clean. I know what you’re thinking. Simple? Ha! But if done right, it really can be simple. When kids are young, life is a game. So use that knowledge to your advantage and make cleaning one of their favorite games as well. A simple game of “Mother, May I?” can get the room spic and span in no time. For example, you assign your son to pick up five toys. He asks “Mother, may I pick up five toys?” And you say yes. If he forgets to say “Mother, May I?”, he must pick up five more toys. Let each child take turns being Mother (or Father for the boys). The same game can be played with Simon Says. Another game is setting a timer and racing around the room to pick up the most toys possible. When the timer goes off everyone freezes. If everything’s done, a special treat can be rewarded. If not, the timer can be set again. For the toddler, games with numbers can be played to enhance counting skills. Have your child pick up three items. Then six. Then two. Sure, making games out of cleaning might take more time. But by making it fun for kids to help, it becomes less like a chore and more like a really fun game they played with you. Most importantly, don’t forget the praise. Even if the room isn’t perfect, efforts should always be applauded. Being complimented on their help in the housework will give a child much more incentive to pitch in, while criticism will only promote resistance in future clean-up times.

Keeping to a Bedtime
Kids need the proper amount of sleep. And kids thrive on routine. Knowing what happens next without any guesswork helps kids to remain calmer. And it is critical to make bedtime an important part of that predictable schedule. But many toddlers still learning how to soothe themselves to sleep fight this daily ritual. When my son was young, he used to get up after bed numerous times because he needed a drink of water, or a snack, or wanted to see what his dad and I were watching on TV. Occasionally I would let him stay up with us, and his 8 o’clock bedtime turned into something much later. It is tempting to let a child stay up late to enjoy a few more snuggles, or to escape the bedtime conflict. But don’t do it. As I learned, our son became quite used to staying up late and would be groggy the next day. But how do you get a child to stay in bed on their own? I found that establishing a night-time routine helped to prepare him for bed. First he would take a bath. Then I would brush his teeth and get him dressed for bed. Together we would pick out 1 – 3 short stories that we would read together. Then, tucked in with his favorite stuffed animal, I would kiss him goodnight and turn out the light. Did he get up again? Sure. But I would be firm in my answer that it was bedtime and he had to go to sleep. I wouldn’t offer much attention in extra snuggles or another story, but just put him back to bed, repeating until he finally fell asleep. It helped when his dad and I would keep the TV off for the first half hour of bedtime, making it as uninteresting as possible to our toddler so that he had no desire to stay up. It took time, but eventually he was able to let proper sleep be a part of his bedtime. To this day both of my kids go to bed and fall asleep with no struggle whatsoever. They know when to expect it, and they wake up refreshed and ready to start a new day the next morning.

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It’s time to confess your pre-baby notions vs. your post-baby reality. What promises did you make when you knew it all…..before you knew any better? Share your answer in the forums!

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4 thoughts on “Creating Good Family Habits”

  1. To alleviate a smidge of your guilt, or give your children something to use against you in your next argument, video games aren’t QUITE as bad as TV…they are interactive and improve things like hand-eye coordination and problem-solving abilities.

    I like to think that if my parents hadn’t been against video games, I would be more coordinated…

  2. Love your “candle-lit dinner” idea! It’s nice that you can turn it into a lesson, but I was sold just on the idea of eating dinner with my family by candle-light. I think it would serve to calm everybody down on a day when energy levels are too high to settle down for a nice dinner.

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