Ten ways to maximize family harmony

10) Be Firm But Empathic in Limit Setting

So many parents seem to get confused when I suggest they offer empathy to their children.  They think that limit setting and having empathy are mutually exclusive.  Not so.  It is good practice to always let your children know that you understand and care how they feel and that you can help them, but that it is simply your job to protect their brain and body by helping to make good decisions for them.  Certain decisions are simply non-negotiable; while for others there may be some flexibility, but that is your call. Ultimately, your children should see you as having things under control on every level -- meaning you always have the power to help them, but you are also the one that holds the decision making power in the household.  When it comes to empathy, don’t worry about giving too much.  Reflecting back your child’s feeling to him/her (e.g., “I can see you’re really angry”) will help them not only organize and understand their own feeling states but also those of others.

9) Stop for One Moment When Your Child is Arguing with You and Say:  “Tell Me Your Idea.  I am Listening.”

You would be surprised by how effective this actually is.  Your child may be ranting and raving, and by uttering those words they may stop right in their tracks!  You do not have to adopt or agree with their idea, but sometimes, providing a stage for them to be heard may help.  Stay calm and even in your approach.  When your child is yelling, don’t also go there.  Instead whisper and speak slowly so that both of your engines do not rev at the same time.  If you need to go into your room in private and bang your head against a wall, feel free!

8) Instead of Thinking You Always Need to Consequence Your Child for an Infraction, Consider Instead an Act of Kindness

It is not good for any child’s self-esteem to feel as if he/she is always getting in trouble and doing something wrong.  For that matter, for some children, consequences are not even meaningful.  So instead of always feeling as if you have to take something away if your child or adolescent breaks a rule, think instead, of something that might be contributed.  For example, your child might contribute something to the household such as clearing the dinner table; or find something in his/her closet to donate to charity; or send a care package to someone in need.  You can have fun brainstorming and filling a box with acts of kindness that can be selected when needed.  Contribution may send a better message than continual consequence. 

761 Their family harmony is at an 11. Not a 10. An 11.

7) Keep Communication Simple and Straightforward

Blah, blah, blah.”  This is sometimes all our children process.  We can say things repeatedly until we are blue in the face, and still the information does not compute.  Perhaps that is because we say too much.  Have you ever thought to yourself, “If only my children would listen, how easy life would be!”  (I’ve always thought this would be a great book title!).  Perhaps in this instance, less is more.  Choose words carefully and pick one simple main point.  Do not try and impart any logical thought to your child when he/she is worked up.  Save your breath for moments when you are both calm.  IQ points drop dramatically when we are emotionally charged.

6)  Expect to Adjust Your Parenting Strategies Based on Your Child

Comparisons are very natural to make, but will not work, since each child is different.  Unfortunately, our children do not come with rule books and formulas that guide us in the direction of strategies that will work best for them.  Instead, we learn over time through trial and error.  Sometimes by adjusting our parenting strategies and modifying a child’s environment, their “problems” improve.  Sometimes, a good question to ask is: “Whose problem is this anyway?”  It is a problem we create if we have put our children in an unfair situation (e.g., such as having them out late and expecting them to listen well).

5) Don’t Take Your Adolescent’s Moods Personally, But Do Be Vigilant from a “Perceived” Distance.  Don’t Be Naïve

Increasing independence in the tween and teen years is a natural developmental progression.  Peers will increasingly be sought over parents.  Do demand respect, but do not expect that every personal detail will be shared with you.  Know your children’s friends well and their families better.  Host at your house.  Don’t be afraid to drug test, even if you think, “My child would never do that.”  Eyes wide open.  Be cool and sly, vigilant and informed.  Your adolescent does not have to know that you are checking up, but you should.  If a problem arises with trust, address it immediately with an explicit action plan.  These will be stormy years indeed.  We just want to prevent a deluge.

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4) Realize That Some Brains Do Not Handle Screen Time in The Same Way That Others Do, and Don’t be Afraid to Do Something About It

For some children and adolescents, too much time in front of a screen can be personality changing.  When the video games and screen time reach a level of obsession, cause meltdowns, and are preventing natural human engagement; they have to go, or be dramatically reduced.  Limits such as no screen time during the week, with one hour permitted each weekend day may be an easy way out, depending on the age of your child.  While we all as adults need breaks, and screen time can be a good “babysitter,” just keep in mind the flip side.  Buyer beware!

3) If it is the Last Thing You Do, Pound the Idea of Appreciation and Gratitude Into Your Children Day after Day

Ay yay yay, this a tough one, but don’t give up!!  We live in a society where the question is always asked, “What’s next?” You may have just spent the day at Disneyland and your children may still ask, “What can we do when we get home?” It is OK to remind your children of those starving, homeless children in third world countries.  Let them get a visual in their minds so they learn to appreciate what they have and be able to count their blessings.  This is a great life lesson for all of us.

2)  Establish Family Values Early On and Let That Be a Source of Pride For Your Children

Instead of framing these as your rules, “my way or the highway,” create buy in as soon as you can about what makes your family special.  Examples might be:

  • We are a sharing family.
  • We are a forgiving family.
  • We are a non-violent household.
  • We are a respectful family.
  • We are a listening family.
  • We are a patient family.  (With regard to patience, I try to “sell” it as something that is a “superpower”)   

Just keep reminding your children of these values on a daily basis, and hopefully they will then adopt them in life.

And above all else:

1) Take an Interest in Your Child’s Passions and Nurture Those Passions

Life is more than memorizing information from a textbook.  As we know, many of the most successful people in life are those who have vision and drive, not necessarily those who got A’s on their exams.  Moreover, you can use your child’s passions productively to embellish their thinking and learning.  For example, if your child’s passion is social media, instead of having them text all day, have them think about establishing rules of text etiquette for younger children or those with social challenges; or participating in an informational interview with a marketing executive of an internet start-up company; or brainstorm a plan for improving social media channels.  Certainly do not use taking a passion away as a consequence.  Find something else, anything else – but NOT the passion.  

I hope these tips help bring harmony (or at least sanity) to your family!

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Dr. Jonine Biesman is a California board-certified pediatric neuropsychologist and co-developer of the Thrively Strength Assessment.  Read her full bio here.

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Develop Your Child's Strengths

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