You have at your disposal a powerful question that can strengthen your family relationships. It’s a simple question: “How can I help you?” Of course, there are variations:
“What can I do for you today?”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“What can I do to help?”
‘What would you like me to do?”
We underestimate the power of this little question, power that would benefit every family. Take a moment and consider its power for your family.
“How can I help you?” honors your family. It communicates our interest in our family members. It expresses how much we value them and their work. It reveals our interest in their lives and their work.
“How can I help you?” shares grace with your family. It shows your spouse, your children, and your parents that you care enough about their daily life and work to invest your time and energy in it. It means we will give up your desire to be in charge and let them be in charge, let them direct you in how you can help them.
“How can I help you?” promotes togetherness within your family. It opens the opportunity to work together.
“How can I help you?” communicates grace by opening the door for you to serve other family members.
Are you beginning to see the power of this question to strengthen your family relationships? By asking this question we honor our family, we show grace to our family, we promote togetherness with our family, and we open the door to service within our family. In other words, we lay several of the building blocks needed for a healthy family just by asking this simple question: “How can I help you?”
To truly experience the power of this question, I suggest a 30-day challenge. Every day for the next 30 days, ask a family member “How can I help you?” You could ask the same family member every day or you could ask a different family member each day. Either way, ask a family member this question every day for the next 30 days.
After 30 days, reflect. How has this impacted your relationship with your family? How has it changed the way you think of your family? How has it changed the way your family acts toward you and you toward them?
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the changes your family experiences because of this one simple question: “How can I help you?”
Every marital interaction falls into a box according to Dr. John Gottman. One box is the nasty box. Even happy couples find themselves in the nasty box sometimes. We’ve all been there—frustrated, critical, defensive, blaming, and even contemptuous. But unhappy couples get stuck in the nasty box. They live and die in the nasty box. Couples who get stuck in the nasty box have about 4 positive interactions for every 5 negative interactions. Read that sentence again. They have more negative than positive interactions. This ratio contributes to a lack of emotional connection. (For more on how to use this ratio to strengthen your marriage and family read Family Bank of Honor and Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank.) Couples in the nasty box are not only emotionally disconnected, but they are also afraid of to express the vulnerability needed to “open up” emotionally. And they lack the skills needed to resolve conflict. No one wants to live in the nasty box. It’s…well, nasty and miserable. We all want to live in the nice box.
The nice box is filled with mutual respect, affection, cherishing, and trust. Unfortunately, no one lives in the nice box 100% of the time. But healthy couples offer expressions of repair when they step out of the nice box into the nasty box. These expressions of repair help decrease the tension during conflict and confirm their affection for one another. Repairs are made possible because each spouse is aware of the other spouse’s inner world. They respect their spouse’s inner world and respond to it in a loving way. Expressions of repair can include a smile, an open-ended question, an inside joke, a touch, a gesture…anything that communicates love and commitment.
Still, happy couples only spend part of their time in the nice box. Surprisingly, happy couples spend most of their time in the neutral box, even when having a disagreement. In fact, Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that happy couples spend 65% to 70% of their time in the neutral box. Unhappy couples spend only 47% of their time in the neutral box, leaving much more time for the nasty box. The ability of a married couple to sit with one another in the neutral box reveals a trust nurtured by engagement and responsiveness. It is the byproduct of work done in the past to proactively grow a healthy relationship.
In which box does your marriage reside? You can learn to live in neutral and nice box by learning about one another’s lives, expressing adoration toward one another on a daily basis, turning toward one another to overcome life’s obstacles and celebrate life’s joys, and planning a future of celebration together.
Every mother knows that ta lack of sleep tonight leads to an irritable child tomorrow. Now, a study that monitored 2,000 adults over an 8-day period reveals that a lack of sleep impacts adults as much as it does children. This study also provides a little more specific look at that impact. Let me share 3 things this study revealed.
Adults who got more sleep reported higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions than those who got less sleep.
Stressful events did NOT lessen positive emotions the day after a good night’s sleep like they did after a poor night’s rest.
A good night’s sleep contributed to an “even greater boost in the positive emotions experienced the next day.” In other words, positive emotions were even better after a good night’s sleep.
These findings reveal how sleep impacts each of us. However, these results also show how sleep impacts our families. First, a lack of sleep contributes to irritability, which can harm family relationships over time. Second, positive emotions build stronger family relationships. A lack of sleep robs us of positive emotions. Getting enough sleep, on the other hand, prepares us to experience and enjoy positive emotions…and positive emotions cultivate greater intimacy. So for the sake of your family, get to bed. Develop a good sleep habit.
Here are some hints to help you get a better night’s sleep.
Keep a regular bedtime and “wake up time.” Go to bed at a similar tune every night and set your alarm to get up at the same time every morning. This will contribute to a good night’s rest.
Limit light and noise in the room where you sleep. We sleep best in quiet, dark spaces. Make your room conducive to sleep.
Turn off screens 90 minutes before bed. Screens stimulate us and cause us to “forget the time.” We may decide to “check one thing” on our phone only to realize later that we “should have been asleep two hours ago.” Plus, the screen’s “blue light” interferes with our sleep. In fact, you might consider purchasing glasses with a “blue light filter” if your work demands you use a computer often. (Here is the enemy of teen sleep that may be the enemy of your sleep.)
If you are unable to fall asleep after about 30 minutes, get up and go into another room. Engage in some activity that will not arouse or stimulate you. Return to your bed when you are ready to fall asleep.
Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime. Studies suggest that a warm bath or shower helps people fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and sleep more efficiently.
If worries about tomorrow keep you awake, write out a to-do list. Research suggests that the more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.
Have you ever said, “There are not enough hours in the day”? I know I have. I’ve felt the crunch of having too much to do and not enough time to get it done. I hate to admit it, but I even get grumpy and agitated when I feel pressured for time. Sometimes I ignore everyone and rush around trying to get everything done. Have you? If you have, you’re not alone.
Feeling the time crunch, however, has an impact on our emotional health and our families’ health. It interferes with our relational intimacy, and it limits our joy within the family. It makes us feel disconnected and alone, even when surrounded by our loved ones. We might even begin to feel like “they just don’t care.” Fact is, we would be wise to look at the priorities undergirding our time crunches and how we use time. As we do, we might identify what Ashley Whillans calls “time traps” in her book Time Smart. As we identify them, we may want to change them. Let me share a few.
Believing busyness reflects status. Our society encourages us to think that the busiest people are the most important people, the most powerful people. This is not necessarily true. Even if it were true, do you want your family to see you as important and powerful or happy and kind? I’m going for happy and kind.
Technology robs us of time. “Taking a moment” to check out a social media app or watch a couple videos can easily fall into half an hour, an hour, or even all afternoon. Playing a video game for “a second” can suck up hours of our time. Technology robs us of time before we even know it.
“Idleness aversion,” or being uncomfortable with boredom drives us to be constantly busy. In reality, having a period of time in which we have nothing to do is healthy. It’s true. “Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development…are the happiest people in the world” (Wm Lyon Phelps). “He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul’s estate” (Henry David Thoreau). Take time to improve your soul’s estate.
Undervaluing time and its importance in our emotional health. Investing in saving time is an investment in happiness.
Making future commitments with the false belief that you will have more free time later. You will not have more free time unless you put away these time thieves and start practice some of the time savers below.
So how can you become “time smart” and so promote your family health? Here are some time savers.
Turn off your cell phone for a day or during certain parts of the day. For instance, turn off the cell phone for dinner. Turn off the cell phone while out with family. Unplug for family fun. Doing so will help you avoid distraction and remain present for the moment. In so doing, you’ll enjoy the time.
Be wise in making life decisions. Living a 3,000 square foot house demands more time than a 1,500 square foot house…and the smaller house may still satisfy all your needs. Living an hour from work takes more time from family than living 20 minutes from work. Certain jobs demand more time than others. Extracurricular activities for children and adults demand time that can take up family time. Make time part of the equation when deciding about activities, work, and living space.
How we manage time is an essential component in our personal well-being and in our family health. Learning to be “time smart” can increase your family health, providing more time for intimate interaction and fun together. Take a little time and learn to be time smart…you and your family will be glad you did.
Not long ago we published a short blog on how to avoid “Media Induced Jealousy.” At least one study suggests that nearly 60% of people suffer from jealousy induced by social media posts More recently, I discovered and read the review of a study suggesting that how people use social media impacts their well-being. Since this study provided some excellent insights that can help us build strong, healthy families, I wanted to share it with you.
This study looked at how people use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Specifically, researchers asked participants about four specific ways of using the social media platforms: passively checking one’s news feed, messaging others, catching up on world news, and posting status updates. It then explored ways in which “how people used social media” impacted their well-being.
The most frequently used function was passively scrolling through and checking one’s newsfeed. This provided no direct contact with other users (people). But it did provide abundant opportunities for the person to compare themselves with their friends’ selective portrayal of themselves on the social media platform. This comparison contributed to people underestimating how much their friends actually experience negative emotions and negative life events. After all, we are comparing our known life in all its fullness to their selective portrayal of joyous adventures. With that comparison, we easily conclude that our life is lacking, boring, not good enough. Using social media platforms in this way consistently led to a negative sense of well- being.
In addition, the more time people spent on social media platforms, the more negative feelings they reported.
There is good news though, good news our families can use. Here it is: you CAN use social media in a positive way that promotes happiness… and that is what we need to practice and teach our families to practice. How can we do it?
Avoid passively scrolling through social media. Instead, use the platform mindfully to keep up with family and friends.
Avoid making comparisons between the life events selectively portrayed on social media and the life you live and know more fully. One way to help avoid making comparisons is to spend actual time, either in-person or through the phone, with those you follow on social media. This will provide you a more wholistic perspective of your friend, one that balances the selective joyful side of social media portrayals with the realistic day-to-day ups and downs of their real life.
Use social media to enable direct interactions and social connections. For instance, you can talk on-line through face time, zoom, or even by using an old-fashioned phone call. You can also use social media platforms to schedule opportunities to meet in person. Or you might use a private Facebook profile to plan a reunion or “get together.” You get the idea. Use social media to enable direct, face-to-face or voice-to-voice social contacts.
Cut back on your use of social media…and enjoy those activities and contacts you made following step #3 (above). After all, the top 10 ways to promote happiness all fall into outdoor activities, artistic activities, or social activities.
All in all, it is not “if” your family uses social media, but “how” they use it that will impact their well-being. Use it wisely and the whole family can benefit from the relationships nurtured.
I had the opportunity to visit my extended family recently. It is always a joy to spend time with them. Because we live 500 miles away, we don’t get to visit as often as we’d like. Nonetheless, my wife and I recently had the opportunity to take my parents “on the journey” to visit our family.
This visit held special meaning as one of my aunts and an uncle passed away since our last visit and, due to the pandemic, we had missed the family gatherings celebrating their lives. So, as you can imaging, pictures and stories occupied much of our time during this visit. We recalled fun times and hard times, joys and struggles. Stories I had never heard confirmed what we already knew… and added a few surprises. We laughed together. On occasion, I saw eyes well up with tears. But, we all learned of a family heritage filled with love, resilience, and joy. Our grandparents’ dream of a family that honored and celebrated one another was affirmed.
As the visit progressed, I realized how much we share stories every time we get together. I remembered the joy of recalling our common history and celebrating the places where our histories diverged. I recognized how much each person has to offer one another because of those places where are stories varied while our common story held us together. And, I realized how important those stories are to our family identity as well as our individual identities.
With all this in mind, I have to ask: Do you take time to share your family stories? It’s a good practice to do so. Don’t wait for someone to pass away. Share your stories now. Our family stories build our family identity. They provide us with hope in times of struggle. They lay a foundation for honor and love while reaching forward to a future built on joy and community. Why wait to share your stories? Start sharing those stories today. Your family will reap the benefits for a lifetime.
Family rituals provide you and your children with a sense of security, identity, and belonging. They build stronger family relationships through the creation of shared memories and the commitment of time spent together. (See Cheat Codes for Dads: Shared Rituals) With those benefits in mind, here are 6 rituals every family will enjoy.
Family Meals are a tremendous ritual of connection and security. Really, everything I needed to know I learned at dinner. Although Family meals are a great ritual to practice daily, you can shoot for 3 to 5 family meals a week if your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily family meal. Involve the whole family in the meal process. Whether they help with food preparation, setting the table, or cleaning up, everyone can help in some way. Use the whole mealtime to talk, share about your day, get to know one another more deeply, and laugh. Use the time to grow closer to one another.
Days of Honor also represent a great opportunity to create rituals to celebrate family. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries…make each one special with activities, favorite foods, and even a few gifts to honor the special people in your family.
A Biannual Mommy/Daddy Night. Twice a year let each child spend the evening and night with either “Mommy” or “Daddy.” Take turns so each child gets a special night with each parent. Plan a special meal, watch a movie, enjoy an activity of your child’s choosing. Whatever you and your child choose to do, enjoy this special time of parent-child bonding.
Celebrating an International Day can also create a wonderful family ritual. Pick three or four countries you want to learn about over the next year. Take time to learn a little bit about each country. Then celebrate an International Day in honor of that country. Eat foods from that country. Listen to music from that country. Talk about the country. Even play games common to that country.
Heritage Day. In a similar fashion, learn about the country from which your family has descended. Learn about the heritage of that country. Then celebrate the country and traditions of your “origins” on a special Heritage Day.
A Walk in the Woods. Make it a weekly or monthly ritual to take a family walk in the woods or through nearby park. Not only will you grow closer as a family, but you will also reap the physical and emotional benefits of nature as well.
Of course, there are many more rituals you could enjoy. I encourage every family to celebrate holiday rituals, a bedtime ritual, a morning ritual, a parting ritual, a “reunite-at-the-end-of-the-day-ritual”…. The possibilities are endless. But each one presents the opportunity for a healthier, happier family.
What are your favorite family rituals? Which new ones might you like to try?
Families and happiness seem to go hand in hand. At least it appears so in Facebook posts and television commercials. But we all know families experience hardships and struggles as well. In fact, our family members might struggle with depression and that depression may deepen in times of stress like we are experiencing today.
If you, or someone in your family, struggles with depression, you know how it impacts the whole family. If so, I have good news. Two studies, one from 2017 and one from 2020, suggest a fun and effective way to help reduce the symptoms of depression. Exercise…aerobic exercise to be more specific. In both studies, engaging in an 8-week moderate to intense aerobic exercise program reduced depressive symptoms. The most recent study (2020) found that those who had a more severe baseline of depressive symptoms were the most likely to respond positively to an aerobic exercise regime. So, if you or someone in your family struggles with depression, start exercising today. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Pick an aerobic exercise you will most likely enjoy. You could walk, jog, bike ride, swim, row, or many more. You can engage in these activities indoors in a gym, on a treadmill, an elliptical, or a stationary bike. Or you can enjoy these activities outdoors, allowing allow you to enjoy the benefits of nature as well.
Buddy up. If you struggle with depression, ask a family member or friend to join you. Join a class or group designed for that activity. If your family member struggles with depression, join them in their exercise routine. You can motivate one another while sharing company and time together. You will not only reap the benefits of exercise but the benefit of companionship and a growing relationship.
Make it a habit to encourage. Express gratitude for the time you share while exercising. Acknowledge improvements. Recognize the beauty around you, especially if you choose an outdoor aerobic exercise. As you do, you will also realize the positive impact of gratitude and awe on your mood and the mood of your exercise partner.
These studies measured improved results after only 8 weeks, but you might just find yourself enjoying this so much you make a lifetime habit out of it. I know I did. So, if you or a family member are feeling depressed start exercising today.
One goal all parents share is the goal of raising healthy children. But that goal includes more than just physical health. We also want to raise emotionally healthy children. A large study out of Johns Hopkins University (published in 2019) found positive childhood experiences promoted the development of emotionally healthy adults…just like we want. Best of all, you can provide these positive childhood experiences in your family. You can also help bring other adults into your child’s life to provide even more. Here are the positive experiences the researchers found fundamental to our children and some ways you can provide them in your home.
Children need the opportunity and ability to talk to family members about feelings. Learn to accept your children’s feelings, their emotions. Label their emotions so they can build a strong vocabulary for emotions. Value your children enough to listen to their emotions and respond to them with empathy and understanding before problem-solving. Use emotions as a starting point to learn about your child’s priorities and sensitivities.
Children need to feel safe and protected by the adults in their home. Creating an environment in which the healthy expression of emotions is acceptable will go a long way in creating this safe environment. Obviously, assuring our children’s basic needs for food and shelter are met will also help them feel safe and protected. Similarly, forbidding verbal and physical violence while encouraging loving communication and politeness promotes safety. Your children will also feel safe and protected when you allow them to witness and experience healthy, positive physical affection. (Learn the Heartbeat of a Hug.) Make sure they witness the resolution of disagreements as well. All this will help them feel safe and protected by the adults in your home.
Children need adults who take a genuine interest in their lives. Show your children their importance to you by learning about their interests. Talk about their interests. Invest in their interests. Ask about their activities and their plans. Learn about their dreams and invest in their dreams. Help them with projects and homework. Join them in an activity of their choosing. Show them through your words and your actions that you are interested in them, that you delight in them.
Children need someone in their corner. We all want someone who is in our corner, someone who has our back. Advocate for your child. Help them face and overcome obstacles. Stand by them in the midst of stress or conflict. Support them in resolving conflicts they can resolve on their own and step in to help them resolve those conflicts that become to intense for them to manage at their developmental level. Believe them when they tell you something…and, even more, believe IN them.
Children need to participate in community traditions. Get involved with your child in community. Community may include your neighborhood, your church, and scouting organizations as well as clubs, athletics, or special interest organizations. Each of these groups will have activities and traditions in which you and your child can become involved. Get involved.
Children need to feel connected at school and supported by friends. Our children will feel more connected at school when we have a good relationship with school. So, attend parent-teacher conferences. Go to the concerts and the plays, volunteer to help at school events. Get to know the teachers. The more connected you are to the school, the more connected your child will become as well…and the more likely they will succeed.
In all these ways, you and your home can provide positive childhood experiences to your children. But there is one more way to provide your children with an abundance of positive childhood experiences. Involve other positive caring adults in the fabric and life of your child and family. This may include parents of your children’s friends, ministers, coaches, teachers, or community and club leaders. The more caring adults sharing a healthy involvement in your child’s life, the better. It will allow your child multiple positive childhood experiences to shape their lives in resilience and opportunity. So, build a village of caring adults around your child.
Depression has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic studies suggested 11% of the population reported enough symptoms to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. In December of 2020, during the pandemic, 42% reported enough symptoms of depression to reach a diagnosis (COVID’s Mental Health Toll). In fact, the World Health Organization noted depression as the leading cause of disability in 2020. This increase in diagnosable symptoms is shocking, but not surprising. In fact, a study published in August of 2020 and drawing information from a database of over 100,000 participants revealed social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression. So, it comes as no surprise that after a year of needing social distancing and “shelter-in-place” protocols that depression has increased. The question is: how can we connect socially while maintaining a level of physical safety? After all, our emotional lives depend on social connection, the frequency of confiding in one another, and the opportunity to visit with family and friends. How can we help our families connect socially? Here are just two ideas.
Consider each family member’s interests and look for groups related to those interests. This may include sports, music, scouting, science, or other clubs. Find out how various groups are encouraging involvement during this time. They may meet over zoom. Maybe they have small groups meeting while necessary precautions. You may also participate in your faith community. Once again, they may meet over zoom or in small groups with necessary precautions.
Call a friend and talk…or zoom. Although not as personal as face-to-face contact, talking on the phone or zooming is the next best thing to face-to-face contact. So, connect via phone or zoom rather than text. You may also meet a friend at the park for a walk or sit in an outdoor setting to talk. You might even meet a friend or two at a restaurant that has outdoor seating or is maintaining necessary safety precautions. You can also enjoy a picnic or simply watching your children with a friend in the back yard.
These represent only two ideas for maintaining social connection during this time. Doing so takes some effort but will bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to you and your family.
What are your ideas for maintaining social connection during the pandemic? What have you and your family done?