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4 Ways Having a Routine Contributes to a Happy, Healthy Family

Developing a framework can allow your family to prioritize what you value.

Every time I stand in line at the grocery store, I look at the magazines near the register. I often pick up one that has a headline about being organized on its cover. As someone who is not naturally organized, I’ve worked hard to understand the importance of being organized and having routines or schedules. Learning to juggle my family’s many plans has helped me embrace the need for routines. I’ve even found routines help our family be less stressed. If there’s one thing I need less of, it’s stress. Can you relate?

Through trial and error, I realized that routines provide a structured framework for my family (even for someone not naturally organized). The habits and plans you create for your family should be based on what works best for you. As a result, your routines will look different from other families, and that’s perfectly normal. 

When building your routine, allow for flexibility and adaptability over time. For example, your work schedule or your kids’ activities may change, so things will look different for each family. And you’ll probably have to adapt over time.

Here are a few ways that having a routine contributes to a happy, healthy family. Routines…

1. Provide a flow for the day. 

Your children learn what’s coming next. They begin to look forward to activities such as helping with dinner, storytime, or quiet time.

2. Create space for intentional family time. 

You may have movie night or family game night. One night of the week becomes breakfast for dinner night. 

3. Foster brain development in your children. 

Children can recognize signals for what’s happening next. When the lights are turned low, your child sees that the bedtime routine is beginning. When you walk to the bookshelf, they recognize storytime is starting, and they go to your “reading chair.”

4. Promote social and emotional development in kids. 

Children learn how to clothe themselves, brush their teeth, and clean up after themselves once routines are established. (Hello, independence!)

If you’re ready to create (or redo) a routine that works for your family, consider these things: 

Times that naturally lend themselves to routines.

There are specific times in the day that make having a routine more manageable. Routines around bedtime, storytime, playtime, dinner, or the mornings are a great place to start. Make it as simple as possible, with only a few steps. 

Things you can remove from your routine.

In creating the routine that works best, take a look at what you may need to remove from your schedule. When you write down your activities in order of importance, it will help you decide what no longer fits your plan.

It’s a work in progress.

Your routine may be ever-changing because your children continue to change and grow. The routine you create may work for a while but be open to tweaking it when you need to.

Having a routine doesn’t mean you need to fill all the time slots or that you’ll be the most organized family on the block. The intent is to provide a framework that allows your family to be healthy and happy, and to prioritize what you value. You may love quality family time, reading, or play. If so, build those things into your routine. But remember that your plans don’t have to be written in stone and followed like the law; routines are meant to serve you — not the other way around. 

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Adults are working from home. Students are learning from home. We’re Zooming and following IG stories to keep up with our friends and family. We have become more reliant on technology to earn a living, get an education, and stay connected to loved ones than ever before. 

Even in the midst of our dependence on WiFi, apps, smartphones, and social media, we look around at our family from time to time and say, “We’re texting each other from the next room. If we don’t get control of all this screen time, our family isn’t going to know each other.”

There are studies linking technology to mental health problems like loneliness, anxiety, and depression. People are suffering from issues such as video game addictions. Divorce filings are citing inappropriate online behavior as factors leading to marital collapse. 

Technology is often dictating how we spend our time instead of the other way around. As parents, part of wrestling control away from the screens working on releasing as many dopamine squirts in your brain to get you hooked means setting boundaries with your family.

Here are eight tips for setting boundaries in your family so technology can increase family togetherness and not cause a disconnect.

Set boundaries so technology serves a positive purpose in your family.

Technology can educate, connect, and entertain us in healthy ways. Boundaries help ensure that technology doesn’t take away from any of those positive things. Make sure a screen is never the only source for educating, connecting, and entertaining.

Be a good role model.

Boundaries can’t be one-sided. “Do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t work. Yes, there are some perks to being an adult; being a technology-distracted parent isn’t one of them. Telling your kids not to bring phones to the dinner table while you sit at the dinner table and text is not a good plan. As a leader in your home, you must first lead by example

Protect your family.

Setting technology boundaries helps protect your family’s connection, safety, and both mental and physical health. Whether it’s cyberbullying or anxiety, establishing boundaries can work to safeguard your family’s wellbeing.

Make a plan.

Create a family technology plan which includes the purpose, boundaries, and consequences. Enforce consequences unapologetically. This can be as simple as taking away their game controllers or reducing their allotted tech-time.

Incentivize technological responsibility.

Encourage your family to make good decisions through rewards that are meaningful. Trips to the ice cream shop, extra tech-time on the weekend, choosing the movie on family movie night—anything that brings attention to good decision-making regarding technology usage reinforces the behavior you want to see. 

Designate tech-free time.

When possible, replace tech-time with family time. Make space for family movies, game nights, and family meals. Setting aside time before bedtime, when devices are off, will help the family connect and increase everyone’s chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Don’t compare.

Focus on what’s best for your family. Don’t compare yourself to other families. No two homes are alike. It’s one thing to seek advice from other families, but keep your family values front and center.

Educate your family.

Invite your children to learn what you’re learning about the pros and cons of technology. Our family has watched documentaries, television specials and read information together. Being informed has helped our family understand the potential effects of technology on our mental health, relationships, and even our brains. This helps us hold each other accountable and helps us stay focused on the most important thing—our relationships.

Boundaries don’t have to be restrictive. Good boundaries will help your family enjoy relationships with each other by protecting you from potential distractions. Setting boundaries in your family is your way of putting technology in its place. Gadgets are not more important than your relationships with the people you love. Messing with those relationships is a boundary that you can’t give technology the freedom to cross.

Feeling some disconnect? Is there underlying family tension? Is the management of household chores lacking? Are big changes coming to the family? How is everyone handling what life is throwing their way? Do we only talk to each other to discuss the next day’s plans?

Or maybe you want to prevent your household from going in 1,000 different directions and losing touch with one another.

You need a family meeting.

The Benefits of a Family Meeting:

  • Pause to connect. There’s a lot that may be going on individually. Work, school, friends, extracurriculars, health, the list goes on. It’s easy to disengage and disconnect with one another even though you live in the same home.
  • Be on the same page. Meetings ensure that everyone understands the direction the family is moving in. They also help to eliminate misunderstandings and miscommunication
  • Not leave anything to chance. Meetings erase the need for assumptions and statements like, “I thought you were going to do…
  • Coordinate schedules. As families move from season to season, coming together to talk about plans and schedules for an upcoming season can prevent being overextended.
  • Children’s Self-Esteem. Meetings make sure that everyone in the family knows they are important. They let every family member know there’s a space for them to be heard.
  • Mental and Emotional Check-In. Meetings are an opportunity to observe and share how family members are doing.
  • Problem-Solving Skills. Family members learn and practice ways to solve problems together as they see what is modeled in family meetings.
  • Sees interconnectedness of family. Meetings allow everyone to see how each person works with and depends on each other.

The Step-By-Step

Pre-meeting Setup

  1. If married, talk with your spouse about the need for a family meeting. Tell them what you’d like to discuss.
  2. Set a time that’s going to work for everyone. Don’t try to squeeze it in 30 minutes before a ballgame. If you have older kids, give a day or two’s notice, but not more. It helps them coordinate with their robust calendar.
  3. Set a place for the meeting. You may have them all in your living room. You may change it up and have it outside by a fire, at a local ice cream shop, or during a family meal.

The Family Meeting

  1. Introduce the reason for the meeting.
  2. Have a Brief Activity such as pulling a question from a question jar. There’s value in getting everyone involved, laughing, and talking at the very beginning. You can find great family questions here and here.
  3. Introduce topic. Be mindful of how you approach the topic. Is this a topic for discussion, disseminating information, and making decisions? Is it about solving problems or hearing everyone’s thoughts? Whatever the topic, try not to lecture.
  4. Leave room for questions and feedback. Be sure to give everyone an opportunity to share their feelings about the matter and its conclusion.
  5. End with something fun. (Game, movie, ice cream, karaoke, etc.)

The Follow-Up

  1. Over the next couple of days, ask family members individually what they thought of the family meeting. (They may have more thoughts they didn’t express during the meeting.)
  2. Proactively address any action items that result from the meeting.

Reasons to Call a Meeting

  • Family Conflict. Siblings aren’t getting along (more than usual).
  • Celebrate. A family or individual milestone, an accomplishment, demonstration of a family value, paying off a loan, etc. (Don’t use family meetings for birthdays or holidays.)
  • Transition. New home, new job, new schools, new person moving in or coming to visit.
  • Changes in family routines and schedules. New season of gymnastics, scouts, soccer, and piano lessons. Discuss meal and night routines when everyone will be getting home later.
  • Check in emotionally and mentally. (Your kids may “show” more than “tell.”)
  • Family values. Introducing values, noticing behavior that isn’t consistent with family values.
  • Family Lifestyle Changes. Moving to healthier eating habits, money-saving practices, altering rules about electronics.
  • New family initiatives. Eating meals together, being more generous as a family, implementing a movie night, game night, etc.
  • Family Rally for Support/Encouragement. Supporting a family member dealing with health issues, job or school stresses, or working to accomplish a difficult task such as running a long distance race, etc.

Rules & Tips

  • Be Purposeful. Have specific topics for family meetings that are important to the entire family. Do not over schedule family meetings. Some things are one-on-one conversations. Others don’t require much conversation.
  • Quiet children may need a prompt to share. If someone isn’t talking at all, ask them, “What are you thinking?” or “What do you think is best?
  • Meeting Length: 20-30 minutes for families with children under 12. Can extend to 45 minutes with teens if they are engaged and are keeping the conversation going.
  • Family meetings often start the conversation. Children may think about it more later and share in the days after. Be open and sensitive to opportunities to listen to their thoughts after the meeting.
  • No electronics during the meeting—phones away!
  • Calm tone by the parent. (Kids take their emotional cues from their parents). Display the emotions that you want your kids to have about given topics.
  • Don’t use this time to single out a child’s negative behavior. (They’ll begin to dread family meetings if you do.)
  • Teach and practice listening without interrupting. If you model it as a parent, you can set the tone to help your children follow the same practice.
  • Don’t let the family meetings get into a rut. (Change location. Keep it fresh. Call a meeting simply to celebrate an accomplishment.)
  • Look for opportunities to allow your child to lead a family meeting, too. (And discuss with them the end goal and then give them freedom to lead responsibly. Teaches them healthy communication, leadership, empathy, and problem-solving skills.)

Your family meetings may initially get resistance from your children and maybe even your spouse. That’s ok.

People often don’t see the value in them until they experience the unity, increased communication, and connectedness that result from them. The meetings can help your family navigate through challenging situations. Additionally, they can provide anticipation for celebrating unique accomplishments. They can become a family staple that provides your children with some predictability in an extremely unpredictable world.

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A crisis can teach us a lot about ourselves. It can magnify our shortcomings and challenge our beliefs. It can shine a light onto our priorities—from how we spend our time, to what we spend our energy talking about, to where we spend our money. This is as good a time as any to reset and be intentional about how we, as a family, open back up for business. 

Let’s not leave anything to chance. You must be intentional. Intentional about time together, building relationships within the home, connecting with those you care about, not over-scheduling and self-care. Make a family plan to live on purpose post-COVID-19

THE EXERCISE

Step 1: Gather with your spouse and/or children.

Call together a family meeting. A family meeting shows that this is important. It also shows that you want everyone’s input. 

Step 2: Play a game, have a dance-off, start a pillow fight! Get the blood flowing!

Doing something fun first helps create a positive atmosphere where ideas can flow. It can set the stage for amazing creativity.

Step 3: Things to discuss that can help you develop your family plan.

Pick the questions that are most appropriate for your family. Older children might like to write answers to some of these ahead of time.What did you like most about being quarantined?

  • What was the toughest part about being quarantined?
  • Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what?
  • How do you think the quarantine affected our family in a positive way?
  • Did we do anything during quarantine that we want to keep doing?
  • What parts of pre-quarantine family life do you not want to go back to?
  • What are our family’s biggest strengths? Biggest weaknesses?
  • What does success as a family look like? How can we work together as a family to achieve that success?
  • Who are the people outside of this family (extended family, friends, neighbors) that we care about?
  • How could we be intentional to care for them and stay connected?

Step 4: PLAN

Work together to develop a family plan that reflects the thoughts and conclusions from your discussion in Step 3. Be sure that your plan includes how you will:

  • Spend time together as a family. (Number of meals you’ll eat together each week. How often you’ll do a family activity. Schedule one-on-one time.)
  • Choose a family-friendly number of extracurricular activities to participate in. (Consider how much time it will take. Pros and cons. Is this just a good thing or is it the best thing for me and our family? Are we over-scheduling? The cost to the entire family.)
  • Regulate screen time. (Check out our technology in the home resources.) 
  • Connect with those outside of your family that you care about. (Visits, phone calls, video-chats, gifts, etc.)

When crafting your plan, aim to be realistic.

Be willing to adjust your plan if you overshoot your expectations. The goal isn’t to be perfect, it’s to have stronger relationships. Your plan may start with 5 meals per week. After a few weeks, you may realize that 5 meals per week are not realistic for your family. You may end up adjusting your plan to 1 or 2 meals per week. 

What’s important is that you prioritize your time as a family. Hard decisions may have to be made by everyone– often, starting with the parents’ choice of activities that they are involved in. This must be done if you’re going to purposefully bring the lessons your family has learned during the quarantine into your post-quarantine life. 

Dr. Gary Oliver, Executive Director of the Center for Healthy Relationships, wrote: “When 1,500 school children were asked the question, ‘What do you think makes a happy family?’ the most frequent answer was ‘doing things together.’”

The happiness and the belonging that comes with doing things together helps children have the confidence, security, and identity they need to leave their home and face the world.

Image from Unsplash.com

In light of our current events and the chaos and disruptions they’ve brought, I felt the need to call a good, old-fashioned family meeting about COVID-19! It had been a while, but we had a lot of new important things to talk about—new work situations, school cancellations, health concerns, and how our family was going to navigate these unique circumstances.

Once everyone gathered around in the living room, several things were part of this particular meeting:

  • I asked how everyone was doing. How was everyone feeling- physically and emotionally? My colleague wrote a great blog about taking your family’s “temperature.”
  • I shared information from the CDC about the coronavirus, how it’s transmitted, risks of exposure, symptoms of infection, and recommended precautions to take. I kept a calm tone and stuck to the facts. Then I allowed room for them to share what they had already heard and where they heard it. We talked about what information sources were trustworthy. (I have teens and up. Adjust accordingly for your children.)
  • I went over some new family routines and rules that would be in place for a while. No friends over right now. Who was responsible for sanitizing door knobs, appliance handles, remotes, light switches, etc., and on what days. What the schoolwork schedule would look like. We talked about how we would be having more Family Movie and Game Nights!
  • I allowed space for questions and encouraged everyone to be real about their reactions and suggestions. They had some ideas way better than mine!
  • I emphasized that this was going to pass and we would seize the opportunity these new obstacles provided- to spend more time together as a family, to learn new things, and to invest time in the things we always say we wish we had the time to do. We are a team and a fun team!
  • We talked about how “this” was not all about us and how we needed to keep our eyes open for creative opportunities to help other people.
  • Remember: This is opening a dialogue to what will be an ongoing conversation.

Sure, this meeting was necessary because of a set of new, unique circumstances, but family meetings should be a regular part of your family culture. Keep them going!

General Family Meeting Tips:

  1. Keep them positive and fun.
  2. Try to keep everyone involved.
  3. Keep them relevant. (Nothing worse than a meeting that feels unnecessary.)
  4. Keep them a brief but consistent part of your family life.

Every family is different so be sensitive to your specific family needs as you consider these suggestions. Be ready to adjust when necessary.

  • Start them with something fun that gets everyone talking like a silly question like, “What superpower would you want and why?” or “What vegetable would you like to disappear forever?” Talking people are more likely to keep talking.
  • Use them to keep everyone on the same page. What was the best part of last week for you? What are you looking forward to this week?
  • Meetings emphasize family interdependence. They help the family to understand each individual member and help each individual to understand their connection to the family. Let family members put things on the agenda. Let them lead.
  • This is the time to address issues, schedules, current events, and even finances in an appropriate way. This is the time to celebrate grades, sports wins, recitals, and character growth you are witnessing as a parent—NOT a time to embarrass anyone or point out individual mistakes or problems. 
  • Be creative! You can hold family meetings at a pizza place (just not during social distancing, of course!), during a board or card game, or throughout a car ride. No matter what—end with some fun!

Since the family was all together in one place, we capitalized on this opportunity to transition from serious real-world problems into an incredibly competitive, very fun, homemade three-point shooting contest using a pot from the kitchen, a chair, and some paper wads. Then we blasted walkout music for each player. Meeting adjourned!

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