This week is National Families Week here in Australia and today, May 15, is the International Day of Families. We’re celebrating the vital role that families play in our society and what better way to do so than to share some tips on helping your family to thrive and flourish?
Every family has its ups and downs, its tensions and challenges and its good days and bad. Parents get frustrated and kids fight. There are misunderstandings, hurt feelings and resentment. Cracks form in our relationships at times despite our best intentions. You can’t put a group of people with differing personalities, opinions, agendas and life experience together day in and day out and expect permanent happiness and harmony. That’s not how people work.
Rather than crumble under pressure and perpetuate negativity, a thriving family emerges from these experiences stronger and more resilient. Individuals grow, bonds are tightened and as a team they find a way to make the good days outnumber the bad. The fighting and feelings don’t disappear. The thriving family just finds a way to harness those experiences for growth and long term happiness.
The 3 attributes of a thriving family
1. They cultivate positive feelings whenever possible.
Families that thrive and flourish find ways to feel positive as often as possible. This doesn’t mean squashing their frustrations and smiling at each other through gritted teeth. Difficult feelings need to be expressed in order to keep psychologically healthy.
A thriving family embraces warmth, care and love but also encourages curiosity, awe, hope, humour, gratitude, satisfaction, relief and amusement. When we experience the full array of positive feelings ou hearts and minds open to new ideas, we broaden our focus, expand our thinking and solve problems more readily. We’re more playful and connected to each and we learn more easily.
Explore nature as a family. Take a walk, explore the local gardens, climb a hill or just look at the stars. Our natural environment is the perfect place to prompt curiosity, trigger conversation and experience awe at the world around us - all positive emotional experiences that will see you return home healthier, happier and more engaged in your world and each other.
Be interested and enthusiastic. We all thrive when others show an interest in our interests and passions - kids and adults alike. We all like to talk about the things we love! Cultivate curiosity in your house by asking questions, listening closely, researching questions together and showing enthusiasm for each others’ ideas and discoveries.
Have a laugh! Nothing creates a happy family bond like laughing together. Find a funny movie, go to an age appropriate comedy show (we love The Listies) or just indulge in some silly Dad jokes over dinner.
2. They connect, collaborate and resolve conflict.
Did you know that family meals are one of the best ways to reduce the risk of kids engaging in risky behaviour? This includes smoking, drinking and drug use. Studies also suggest that family meals protect kids against eating disorders and obesity. It’s not the meals themselves that make a difference. It’s the act of sitting together as a group, talking and sharing.
Thriving families take the time to connect over meals and joint activities. They also brainstorm together to solve problems and share important decisions.
- Set yourself a goal to have 5 family meals together per week (breakfast, lunch or dinner). While you’re there, you might like to start a gratitude ritual.
- Cultivate an ‘every problem has a solution’ vibe in your house. Challenge everyone (yourself included) to see problems as opportunities to learn and grow and tackle them head on, using a systematic approach and focusing on what you can do about it, not what you can’t. Problem solving is an important coping strategy for life!
3. They focus on strengths
Thriving families flip their thinking and focus on what they do well, not what they’re doing badly. 30 years of psychological science confirms that when kids and adults focus on the things that they do well, happily and often (their strengths) they get a boost to their happiness and wellbeing. These might be particular talents like sports, music, art or IT but they might also be strengths of character such as grit, kindness, interpersonal ability or humour. When these skills, abilities and attributes are recognised, encouraged and engaged in frequently the result is a much happier family.
- Switch your focus from what’s going wrong to what’s going right. In her book The Strengths Swich, Professor Lea Waters points out that we each have a ‘negativity bias’ that drives our tendency to focus on what’s going wrong (the household mess, incomplete homework, cranky spouse) rather than what’s going right at home. The good news is that with practice we can train ourselves to see the positives more often. Challenge yourself to notice one strength your family members exhibit this week and talk to them about it.
- Know your strengths. Sometimes our strengths are not easily identified. Do you know yours? There are simple questionnaires that you can take to identify your strengths. You might like to try this free questionnaire.
Here’s to creating a thriving and flourishing family at your house!