Our families are our first community, they are our central community, they are our heart. It is in the family community that children learn what it means to be in relationships with a group of people. Communities both support and challenge us and families are no exception. As parents we often want nothing more than for our children to find happiness and health in their relationships outside the home. We know that people are healthier in relationships, maybe you have seen the expression; Wellness and Illness to illustrate this point. Our child’s wellness starts in the home. Here are 5 simple practices to be mindful of to build community in your home.
1. Connecting Time
In our increasingly busy lives, it is more important than ever to turn off and set aside the distractions and spend quality time interacting with our families. This can be shared activities of play and routine check in times to talk about our individual lives. It is important the play is collaborative. Yes, going to your child’s sporting event and cheering them on is important and builds community, but the connecting time I’m talking about here is playing and being together. So, tossing the baseball back and forth, playing tag at the playground, reading a book with your child, going on a hike, or going to a museum. Furthermore, creating time and being accessible to talk is also important to give you and your child opportunities to give and receive support. Make it routine to talk about your day at dinner or before bed, you may get a shoulder shrug or “my day was fine.” But stick with it, your child will take note if you stop asking. When we are fully present and engaged and connecting with our children it communicates, they matter and are a priority, and these are the little moments that build lasting memories and a secure bond.
Learning to work together, get along, and help each other accomplish a task or goal is an essential practice for life and there are so many opportunities to do this in the home. Everyone in the family plays a role in participating to make the home run as smooth as possible, no one person should shoulder all the burdens. A community works together. Easy ways to create opportunities for cooperation are to have everyone help with dinner. Someone sets the table, someone cooks, someone cleans up, give everyone a role. Start this when your children are young, so it becomes a norm and if they are not young talk about the value of helping each other out. My favorite lesson in cooperation came when my mom bundled me and my four siblings up in our snow gear and sent us outside to shovel. Oh, the arguing that ensued, but we eventually realized that the sooner we worked together to shovel the driveway, the sooner we got to play. So, the more everyone works together on tasks such as dinner or house projects the more down time the family gets relaxing and enjoying each other in the home.
Healthy communication is key in creating a community that can handle the challenges that come with family life. How we communicate with our children is a direct mirror to how they will learn to communicate with us. I will never forget that moment of “aha” when my 4-year-old took a big sigh, furrowed his brow and spoke in an irritated and annoyed tone with how I was playing with him all wrong. I felt a zing of disrespect that led me to want to say “fine, play with yourself.” Luckily, that did not come out of my mouth due to taking a pause and big breath. I realized my son sounded just like I sometimes do when he won’t get dressed or eat or follow my lead. I’m not saying you can’t be frustrated with your children, but there are ways to communicate this that keep them open and receptive to your feedback and guidance. This practice of kind and respectful communication build trusts and keeps us as a family communicating. We learn to express our feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones of irritation, annoyance, and anger in a kind versus mean way. We want our children to know they can come to us when they feel these emotions so we must work to communicate tolerance for their many changing moods. If we don’t they may learn that mom and dad only want to hear me and listen to me when I am happy and calm and polite. We are our children’s teachers and guides and how we role model and practice communication in the home will ripple into our children’s interactions with us and their communities outside the home.
4. Compassion and Care
This one is straight forward. Practicing care and compassion is about kindness and love. How often is your family expressing care through loving touch, words of encouragement, gestures, and showing up for each other! This is where going to your child’s sporting event, school play, music recital is great example of care. Caring is also the work of tending and attending to our child’s needs. My favorite proactive parenting tip for providing care is the acronym HALT. When my child is behaving in a difficult way is he hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? What is the need behind his behavior? This curious approach allows me to offer him the care he needs to grow and thrive and move through a challenging moment.
5. Lastly Courage!
I believe that when we are connecting, cooperating, caring, and communicating in our family it builds our child’s sense of security in themselves to have the courage to go out and explore communities outside the home. They know they always have their core community, the family, to return to who understands them and loves them unconditionally. Courage is also about speaking up and out and sharing and seeking to understand different points of view. This takes courageous energy to push through difficult conversations which is imperative in the diverse, beautiful, and complicated world we live in, and these rich conversations can be experienced in the home.
May your families thrive in wellness.