It’s too easy to forget to make time for the things that really matter in life. Life can be full-on – and being a parent isn’t the easiest job in the world – something that you don’t find out until you actually are one!
Here are some small things you can do to make a difference in your family life and make a habit of being a supportive parent:
1. Give the gift of time
Humans only have a lifespan of 4000 weeks. Time is precious and short, and the trick is to spend it wisely. Your kids won’t remember what you bought them, but they will remember the times spent together.
One minute you are changing their nappy, the next you are crying as you pack them off to university – once gone, this time can never be regained.
2. Praise your children for their effort rather than their ability
If your child gets a good grade in maths don’t say ‘Genius, you are the next Einstein!’ Instead say ‘Brilliant! That shows what you can achieve with hard work.’
3. Practice what Gretchen Rubin calls ‘gazing lovingly’
This means downing tools at the end of the evening and standing at your children’s bedroom door, watching them sleep. (Only with your own kids though, and there is an age limit of 10. After that, the general rule is that you NEVER go in your kids’ bedrooms, just in case!)
4. Read your kids a bedtime story like it was the most exciting book in the world
And note, it is doubly important for sons to see their dads reading books.
5. Ditch the grumpy parent
Be the best parent you can be every night when you get in from work or they get home from school. Often after a busy day when you stumble through the door and are greeted by your family, this is when a ‘grumpy parent’ can appear. ‘Give me five minutes won’t you, PLEASE!’ But literally, you only need to give them two minutes… step through the door and shout ‘I’m home, come get me’ will indeed prompt the same reaction and you can give them a full two minutes of hugs and questions, ooooo’s and aaahhh’s then they will scurry away happy for the time being! Try it, it’s really that simple.
6. Turn off your electronic devices and spend more time with your real flesh and blood family
Happiness is a social thing.
7. Any family is only as happy as their least happy child
Rather than avoiding them, invest time with your children and be genuinely interested in what they’re up to.
8. Chatter away!
A study by Hart and Risley suggested that by age 4, children raised in poor families will have heard 32 million fewer words than children raised in professional families. To add to the woe, it’s not just quantity, it’s also the emotional tone. So please speak a lot and, where possible, couch your language in the 8:1 ratio of positive to negative. Say instead of ‘how was school?’ why not upgrade to ‘what was the highlight of your day?’ or ‘what was the funniest or most amazing thing you’ve done today?’ Say it as you mean it and, of course, properly listen to the answer. You will be rewarded with an increased likelihood of a positive conversation.
9. Practise the four-minute rule
This is a phrase that came from a guru friend of mine, Steve McDermott, and I love its simplicity. Basically, your emotions are contagious. They leak out of you and ‘infect’ your family around you. So, when you make the conscious choice to be positive and upbeat, it takes four minutes for other family members to catch it too. So be enthusiastic for 4 minutes and everyone else will feel great too!
As well as developing healthy habits, it can be a good time to give up bad habits too, we all have them. My friend Sarah has some fantastic advice on how you can do just that over at A Few Favourite Things.