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Your child is giving you that look. The one that makes you feel like you should’ve done better even when you did the best you could. You know they’re unhappy and you feel like you’ve tried everything to cheer them up and nothing’s working. As a parent, we’ve all been there, and the truth is, the moment passes… most of the time.

When my children were younger, we would go to a small family amusement park near our home. We’d invite friends and family to go as a group usually on a warm summer Saturday afternoon. Inevitably the normal summer afternoon rain shower would start just as we were headed for our outing. Because those afternoon thunderstorms were accompanied by lightning, we’d have to postpone or even cancel our plans. I knew my son would be in a mood for days if we actually had to cancel. I’m talking full-on sad, pouting, and disappointed look on his face. I’d try to cheer him up by saying we can go next weekend or by taking him to another fun place for kids. But his mind was set; it was like I couldn’t offer up anything as good despite all of my best efforts, I still had an unhappy son.

Things have changed in ways we never expected this year. COVID-19 has taken away our access to normal activities. Your child may have missed spring sports, annual family trips, or even dealt with the death of a loved one. You get to teach your child how to process and move through a variety of emotions including moments of disappointment and being unhappy. As a parent, you can do everything in your power or even give your child their biggest wish, and they can still be UNHAPPY. 

Your child actually gets to choose whether they are happy or not. Hal Runkel, LMFT, often says, “You are responsible to your kids, not for them.” In most instances, you, the parent, are not at fault nor did you cause your child’s moment of unhappiness. You do have the opportunity to help them see the positive and be happy even in difficult situations.

Here are ways you can create an environment that decreases moments of unhappiness.

  • Know Your Child Is Watching You.

As parents, we model for our children many different things including how we deal with emotions. Your child is very perceptive and in watching you may recognize and mimic your emotions. If you’re dealing with stresses that impact your emotions, your child may also demonstrate the same reactions. It’s good that your child sees you have a variety of emotional responses. Also, be aware if you try to put on a “happy face,” your child will often see through that. They learn being sad or unhappy or angry is normal and how you can get through it.

  • It’s Normal For Kids To Be Unhappy When You Set Limits.

Many parents want their children to always be happy. That’s a lot of pressure to place on yourself. Primarily, it’s your job as a parent to provide consistency, structure, rituals, and routines for your child. As a result, your child may display unhappiness when you set and stick to limits such as bedtime, eating vegetables before dessert, tech device access, or saying NO to what they want. It’s also important to recognize that children often “want what they want” and can use their emotions to manipulate getting their way. Don’t fall for it.

  • Allow Children To Express Genuine Emotions.

If a family member is sick or a family pet has died, it’s good that your child can express their emotions of sadness and unhappiness to you. Allow them to genuinely and authentically share with you what they are feeling. This strengthens your connection. Children feel supported and secure when parents can hear and handle their emotions. 

Your child’s personality may be more optimistic or pessimistic. No matter the case, it’s important to teach your child they are responsible for how they respond or react to any given emotion. In addition, skills such as gratitude and even thinking happy thoughts are ways to build their emotional skills.

  • Playtime Can Make It Better.

Play, whether it is structured or unstructured, promotes intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Children learn how to work with others, handle conflict, and regulate their emotions while playing. Getting outside to play not only encourages bonding with your child, but it also releases endorphins which naturally improve your mood.

In some instances, there are very good reasons why your child is unhappy. A divorce, death, move to a different city, or even across town would be challenging for most children. What happened may be completely out of your control. If you feel like you’ve tried everything you know to help your child adjust, you might want to consider seeking professional help to guide you as you seek to assist your child in dealing with their ongoing feelings of unhappiness.* If your child has health issues or mental health issues, seek professional help.

We want our children to be the best they can be. We want successful, smart, and happy kids. Providing them with emotional and physical security along with age-appropriate behavioral expectations goes a long way. Creating an environment for them to flourish and grow begins with you.

You’re getting ready to marry the love of your life, and you’ve been reading card after card wishing you a marriage full of love and adventure. With that comes the hope of fulfillment in each other and the desire to have fun, because who wants a boring marriage?! No one…

Here are 3 easy things you can put into place NOW to keep the fun in your marriage relationship forever:

1. Add elements of surprise when you’re married!

  • Text your spouse something spicy during the workday. Make it out of the blue and with no business attached, (aka no talk about what’s for dinner or what needs to get done) just some good flirtatious banter.
  • Surprise your spouse by wearing their favorite outfit and suggest an impromptu date night.
  • Send them something at work—could be something as small as a coffee or and grandiose as an edible arrangement.
  • Pick something up for them while you’re out running errands, just because.

2. Play together!

  • Play is essential to having fun in marriage. There are not only relationship benefits to playing together, but health benefits, too! The National Institute for Play (NIP) believes (and has research to back it up) that play can dramatically transform our personal health and our relationships. It can be board games, video games, a puzzle, Minute To Win It challenges, Dominos, cards, or whatever your favorite way to spark some healthy competition is.

Play generates optimism, novelty, makes perseverance fun, and leads to growth. Bonus feature: it gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy, and promotes a sense of belonging and community. 

3. Don’t shy away from romance!

  • Light the candles, turn on some music, and enjoy cultivating intimacy. You have lots to look forward to as you step into married life together. Take the time to be curious about your spouse, compliment them, cuddle up close, and tune in to each other. Alone time can be so beneficial and continually draw you closer to each other. 

BONUS: Free date nights for a more fun marriage!

  • Surely you’ve heard it before, so you’ll hear it again: Date your spouse. The romance doesn’t need to go down as the anniversaries go up. Try new places, carve out quality time, cultivate intimacy, and enjoy being one on one. There are tons of date night ideas, free virtual date nights, and date night DIYs right here on our site—free to you!

It’s easy to have fun in your marriage when you embrace that to have fun means to create fun! Enjoy laughing together, kissing one another, and everything in between. ; )

Some more blogs you may be interested in:

Whether you are thinking about getting married or you have already jumped in with both feet, you may be wondering if it’s really possible to prevent divorce. Or, to put it another way, is it just wishful thinking to believe this is forever?

  • If you have lived through your parents’ divorce, you might be wondering if you have what it takes to prevent a divorce in your own marriage.
  • If you have ever heard the statistic that half of all first time marriages end in divorce, you might be questioning whether or not you will make it is just luck of the draw.
  • Perhaps you have read about or know couples who have been married for 50 years, and you might be asking, “What’s their secret?”

Regardless of your responses, I’m going to give you some good news, straight up. The answer (based on research) is YES! You really can prevent divorce, and the even better news is, it isn’t rocket science.

First, the reasons people cite for wanting to get a divorce:

The National Fatherhood Initiative conducted a national survey on Marriage in America and found that the most common reason couples gave for divorce was “lack of commitment” (73% said this was a major reason). Other significant reasons included too much arguing (56%), infidelity (55%), marrying too young (46%), unrealistic expectations (45%), lack of equality in the relationship (44%), lack of preparation for marriage (41%), and abuse (29%). (People often give more than one reason, so the percentages add up to more than 100%.) Other more recent surveys of adults have come up with similar findings.

Keys to Prevent Divorce

Clearly, there are some valid reasons people divorce. However, a huge percentage of couples are divorcing for reasons that are preventable with some intentional focus. So, if you are considering marriage or you’re already married and you want it to last forever, here are some things you can do to increase your chances of staying together:

1. Communicate!

Keep in mind that just because you love someone doesn’t mean you communicate well with each other. Be intentional about making time to talk with each other not just about intense things, but life in general. Pay attention to how you listen—or actually don’t listen. So often, people are more interested in what they have to say than what their partner has to say. As a result, they only halfway listen because they are preparing for what they want to say next. Practice being in the moment and really listening to your partner. This seems to come easier when you are dating than after you get married.

2. Pay attention to how you handle conflict.

Every great relationship has conflict, but it’s the way people engage each other in the midst of it that matters. If the win for either of you is to get the last word or to be right, your relationship loses. The goal with conflict is to actually increase intimacy in your relationship, not create disconnect between the two of you.

3. Commit.

This might be the super secret sauce for marriages. If you enter into marriage with the idea that if the going gets tough you can always leave, it will be hard to build a strong relationship over time because in the back of your mind you are always entertaining the notion of leaving. The thing about marriage is that it is challenging at times. It’s impossible to bring two people together and not experience some strenuous moments. However, healthy marriages aren’t challenging all the time and they take advantage of the challenges to bring them closer—as in, “Look what we just came through/survived together!” This makes you stronger as a team and also builds confidence that whatever the next challenge is, you can work together to get to the other side.

*To be clear, if you are experiencing abuse, addiction or affairs in your marriage, this is different and you need to seek professional help to determine your best next steps. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors. You can be committed to your marriage and love your spouse and also know the relationship cannot continue along the same path with these unhealthy behaviors.

4. Be intentional about connecting.

When couples talk about lack of commitment, a lot of this centers around feeling disconnected. They are committed to the relationship, but slowly over time, children come along, careers get more intense, parents struggle with illness—all things that require your time, energy and emotional bandwidth. Before you know it, instead of feeling like a team, you feel distant from one another. When one or both people in a marriage start feeling disconnected, they consciously or unconsciously begin to look for connection elsewhere. And you know, the grass is always greener in the yard that gets attention. Take inventory of your activities. Every couple should have activities they do together and apart, but if you find you are doing more activities separately from your spouse, you may want to evaluate the impact it is having on your relationship connectedness.

5. Make time to play together.

Being playful together releases dopamine—the feel-good hormone. When you do things with your spouse that make you feel good, you create powerful positive memories and you associate those feelings with being with your spouse. The University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies research finds that the amount of fun couples have together is the strongest factor in understanding overall marital happiness.

6. Train your brain.

It is true that we teach our brains to think a certain way. If you start feeling negative toward your spouse and you avoid letting them know how you feel, you will probably start to notice the things they do that bother you even more often. Before long, you have built your case for why they are no longer the right person for you. On the other hand, if you look for the good in your spouse, it’s not that you never see their faults, you just don’t let them take up residence in your brain and impact how you see the one you love.

7. Look to the future.

Dream about things you want to do or accomplish together. Write them down and revisit them annually to see if there are things you want to add or delete. This gives you a future focus together. It also provides a focal point for when you face challenging times and need something to keep you motivated and forward-facing in your marriage. It’s kind of a reminder that in the midst of hard, it’s not always going to be like this. Kids get potty trained and sleep through the night. Teens eventually become adults. Illnesses go away or you learn how to manage them.

No marriage is 100% risk-free of divorce. However, there are definitely protective measures you can put in place to significantly decrease your risk for divorce, both before and after marriage. Guard against putting your marriage on auto-pilot. Be intentional about the choices you make on a daily basis. Avoid comparing your marriage to someone else’s, as you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Think of your marriage as a never ending adventure. It’s going to have some insanely crazy times you don’t wish to repeat and some wildly exhilarating moments that you won’t want to end. But consider this—if you quit in the middle of a perfectly good marriage, you will have no idea what you missed out on.

Other blogs you might find helpful:

7 Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Divorce

Couples Who Play Together

10 Things Every Married Couple Needs to Know About Sex

Help! My Spouse Hates to Talk About Boundaries!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! Through this course, you will learn:

  • How to establish healthy communication habits
  • The secrets to creating a deep connection through communication
  • Skills to help you (and your spouse) be a better speaker and listener
  • How to celebrate and understand your different communication styles
  • And so much more!

What are the words to describe this season of social isolation and self-quarantine during COVID-19? I can think of a few:

Frustrating. Stressful. 

Extremely inconvenient. 

Full of anxiety. 

Ruined my plans. 

What day is it again? 

(I could go on…) 

As I was talking with friends (six feet from my computer screen, of course) about how normal life has been turned upside down by this Global Pandemic, I was struck with an interesting thought: Social distancing has taken away all the excuses for not doing the things I’ve said I’m too busy to do. 

For those who are self-quarantined, it has removed a great deal of busyness. Sure, many of us still have to work or do school from home. But chances are we haven’t been fighting traffic to get home, rushing kids to ball games, or struggling to get dinner prepared at a decent hour. This weird point in our current history has created at least some margin in our daily lives. And where there’s margin, there’s an opportunity

I realize this calls for an intentional change in our outlook on our situation. You almost have to unnaturally choose to see the opportunities before you. But I really do think they are there. 

Below are five ways—opportunities, if you will—that social distancing can increase happiness in the home. 

  1. The opportunity to slow down. Social isolation has given us the margin of time. Even if you are working from home, or if your kids are doing school remotely, chances are you can dictate and shape your schedule more than you’ve been used to. 
    • Use that to your advantage. Ask yourself, what are the important things I’ve put off because I said I was too busy? Exercise. Taking a daily walk. Reading. Meaningful conversations with your spouse. Playing in the yard with your kids. Reconnecting with that old school friend. Yoga. Eating at the dinner table each night. Meditation. And don’t forget time to just sit on the front porch… and breathe. 
    • Make a list. Schedule it. Do it! 
  2. The opportunity to clean the clutter. There are two sides to this. Yes, now we have some time to fix that leaky pipe, clean out the garage, and weed the garden (how convenient for the pandemic to happen during Spring cleaning!). 
    • But there’s also the side of cleaning up the clutter that has built up in our relationships with the people we love in our home. Maybe the busyness of your previous life has caused some disconnection between you and your family members. Now is the opportunity to engage in good, healthy, deeper conversations and times of connection. 
    • Our family decided to open up the box of conversation-starter questions that’s been sitting unused on our kitchen table. Every evening at dinner, we’ve had some of the funniest and most interesting talks around these questions. However you decide to clear that space, make it an intentional and daily routine. 
    • One word of caution: Cleaning the clutter may also mean visiting some of the issues that have been lingering between you and your spouse or your kids. This may be a good time to work things out. However, be very aware of stress levels and be strategic as to when the best times are to talk things out. It’s not a good idea to work on old issues when the anxiety is particularly high. 
  3. The opportunity to focus on others in need. Obviously you are not alone in feeling the stress and anxiety. There are those in our neighborhoods and communities who are hurting right now. This is a great opportunity for you and your family to help ease the fears and uncertainties of others, even while you are social distancing. 
    • One charitable neighbor of ours set out a tub full of hand-sanitizers on the sidewalk in front of their yard for anyone who had need. My daughter (on her own) created cheerful cards to give to the neighbors. Someone else in our neighborhood organized a “bear hunt” through social media—our neighbors were invited to display teddy bears and other stuffed animals in our windows so that when kids walked by, they could “hunt” for as many bears as they could. 
    • Anything you can do to bring a smile and sense of cheer to those around you will most certainly bring happiness to your own home. 
  4. The opportunity to be appreciative. When we are super-busy, it’s easy to forget to stop and remember what we should be thankful for. Practicing gratitude increases a sense of happiness and well-being in the home. No matter how much or little one has, there are always reasons to be thankful—for food on the table, the air you breathe, a roof over your heads, the people you love in your home. 
    • Acknowledge what you appreciate. Make it a practice at mealtime to share with each other what you are thankful for. Make a daily “gratitude list.” Thankfulness is a strong tool to temper anxiety and to boost happiness. 
  5. The opportunity to play and be creative. At no other time in our recent history has it been so vital to inject some fun, laughter, and play into our daily lives. Now is the time for family Monopoly games, Nerf wars, movie nights, making breakfast for dinner, camping in the backyard, playing in the rain, and family dance-offs. These activities cut through the stress and provide the glue that bonds family members more closely together. Don’t let the tension of quarantine compromise the opportunity to make memories. Laugh and have some fun!

Opportunities don’t take themselves. You have to be intentional about using the margin you’ve been given as you incorporate social distancing into your life. However, the payoff for you and your family is tremendous.

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Breakfast. Check. Son’s Math. Check. Respond to emails. Check. Help daughter with reading assignment. Lunch. Complete project for work. Dinner. Check, check, check, and check. Whew. This was a good day. We got it all done!

Hold on! Wait a minute! You’re missing something. If you keep up this schedule, the morale and productivity in your home are going to drop and you will miss the opportunity before you. How do I know you’re missing something?

You’re missing something BIG! You’re missing out on a chance to increase your kids’ academic, social, and emotional skills, their ability to deal with stressful situations and anxiety. Oh, and you’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about your kids or your spouse, develop deeper connections, and create lasting memories. Still don’t know what you’re missing?

SCHEDULE PLAYTIME.

Yes. That’s the thing. SCHEDULED PLAYTIME FOR YOUR FAMILY IS CRUCIAL.

Unfortunately, you may also be missing out on a way to make your life easier while you’re home with the family for the foreseeable future. Who doesn’t want that?

This is a MUST. We can’t leave play to chance and hope someone says something funny while we eat lunch or while they’re working on math. We can’t just hope that the adventurous person in the family brings some excitement. And we sure can’t minimize its importance. 

We must add play to our checklist. Why?

  1. Let’s start with all the reasons I mentioned earlier. No need to rehash those.
  2. Brings positive energy, creating a more conducive environment for the work that follows.
  3. We’re a family. We do life together—we laugh and cry together. We play together, feel each other’s stress, and feel each other’s joy. (I can feel it in my home when someone is really stressed out about something.)
  4. When we play and laugh, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that lets us know that we like what we’re doing. We connect that joy and pleasure with the people we are doing it with, making us want to repeat it. 
  5. We’re living in stressful times. Laughter truly is the best medicine. 
  6. Play strengthens our relationships.
  7. Strengthens children’s academic skills. (I know I said it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again.)

I get it. You’re the adult. You have to be the responsible one to make sure that everyone gets all their work done. That everything stays orderly and structured. And if we get everything completed, then we’ll play. Because play is the reward for finishing everything, right? Besides, how will it look if it’s 10:30 AM and we’re playing a game and they haven’t read their English homework yet or you haven’t quite finished that project? You don’t want to be that parent.

Think of the other side of being the responsible parent. The responsible parent who helps to increase their child’s ability to achieve academically and improve communication skills. The parent who builds their kid’s confidence and their immune system. The parent who’s reducing the stress level in the home and creating a positive, energetic homework environment. That’s what you’re doing when you schedule playtime. You’re scheduling all those benefits, which might make it a little easier to get through each day.

There are tons of lists of ways to play. Keep it simple. It can be just a few minutes as a study/work break or a designated 30 or 45 minute recess. Whatever you do, don’t not schedule time to play while you’re home. One could say, you’re not being responsible.

Ideas for How to Schedule Playtime at Home:

  • Ball up some paper, get a trash can and start close. See who can make the shot, and keep inching your way back. Add some flair. Celebrate creativity in shooting styles whether you make it or not.
  • Turn on an upbeat song and dance. Use a hat and have whoever is wearing the hat dance for about 20-30 seconds. Then have someone else put on the hat and dance. Profusely cheer on the person dancing with the hat on.
  • Draw designs on the driveway using sidewalk chalk.
  • Impersonate one another, other people in your life, or famous people.
  • Build a fort in the house using couch cushions, pillows, and bedsheets. Then let someone do their school/job work inside the fort.
  • Start making up a story. Speak for 30 seconds and then have the next person pick up the story from there for 30 seconds. Then have someone else go for 30 seconds and keep going around as long as you can. The story may become outlandish, but who cares? 

Now, look at all the smiles, laughter, and imagination taking place. Check, check, and check.

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The rain let up and the sun peeked through the clouds in the early afternoon on Day 2 of Social Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already a little stir crazy in the house, I directed my 4-year-old, Jackie and 2-year-old, Maddie to put their socks and rain boots on. We headed outside to our driveway, where a couple of fresh puddles lay, just waiting for eager feet to jump in them. 

Jackie looked back at me with an inquisitive look in her eyes. “Is this ok?” She silently sought permission. I smiled and nodded with an emphatic, “Go for it!”

She timidly stepped in the puddle. Maddie watched, waiting for her big sister’s verdict. A little jump. A smile. A bigger jump. A laugh. Soon, both of my girls were jumping and splashing and kicking up muddy water all over their clothes. I stood back, watching them bask in the joy of a carefree childhood activity. 

We needed this. I needed this. With the stress of a global pandemic, trying to work from home while parenting two kids under 5 as my husband delivered essentials to businesses and hospitals as a FedEx driver, I needed a distraction. Some sort of stress relief. And this was it. A little break from the juggling act I was attempting to do between projects and snack times, diaper changes and refereeing sibling quarrels. The excitement and simple pleasure of getting dirty outside were exactly what we all needed. 

The significance of jumping in muddy puddles dawned on me as I really stopped to savor the moment. I had NEVER let my girls jump in puddles before. I rarely even let them get dirty. It’s not that I’m a clean freak, there’s just never enough time. There’s always something to do or somewhere to go. There’s always a nap to be had, a meal to prepare and eat, a bedtime routine to stick to. 

In the hustle and bustle of life, I’d unknowingly robbed my kids of an essential childhood need: to play outside, explore, get dirty, discover and learn. 

As the stress and anxiety of our new (temporary) social-distancing norm was threatening to hit hard, getting outside to play provided much-needed benefits for both myself and my kids. Not only did my kids get exercise from all that jumping and running, but they were also soaking up that vitamin D that strengthens their bones and keeps them healthy! Being outside improved all of our moods. It also gave us a much-needed break from the stuffy indoor tension that was building. 

And just like that, my perspective on our situation shifted. I could view quarantine as an inconvenient nightmare. Or, I could see it as an opportunity by slowing down, appreciating the little things in life, letting my kids be kids, and minimizing the stress of social-distancing by taking the time to enjoy the moments of uninterrupted play.

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“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing…”

Sound familiar? Ever wonder what they’re really thinking about? Well, today, we’re going to find out. Usually, that “nothing,” actually means “nothing important,” and that can actually be a really fun place in their mind for you to see! It’s all about meaningless conversations!

Ask any couple, anywhere, at any time, what the key to a good marriage is, and there’s a near 100% guarantee they will mention communication in some way, shape, or form. Are they wrong? Not at all! Communication really is key to working your way through a whole lot of issues! But when communication is always focused on bettering the relationship, you’re missing out on a lot of fun, too.

Now, let me clarify this before we get too far into it. I am in NO way saying that the meaningful convos aren’t helpful. They are completely necessary to a fully-functioning, healthy relationship.

But hear me out on this: How many times have you looked at your partner and asked yourself, “We’ve been together for (fill in the blank) years now, so why don’t I feel like I know you as well as I used to?” Or maybe you have done an awesome job of having intentional, deep and meaningful conversations with your love, but something feels like it’s missing.

Well, good news for you. You might have stumbled upon the answer!! It just might be meaningLESS conversations: conversations that have nothing to do with the two of you (or anything else for that matter). They’re moments full of silliness, laughter, and fun where you and your partner truly connect. You get to learn more about your partner, you get to be goofy together, you find out things you’d never know otherwise, AND, most importantly, you both get a break from all the to-dos, the heavy topics, and the day-to-day crazies. You get a chance to fully enjoy your partner’s personality and company.

Still don’t get what I’m talking about? Here are a few questions you can ask your partner to get started. If you’re not used to asking questions like this, it might seem dumb at first. But I promise. It’s worth it.

  • If you were given $100,000 (totally tax-free and no strings attached) and had to spend it ALL this week (no investments or saving funds!) what would you buy?
  • If you could be any historical figure from the 15th century, who would you be and why?
  • What is your favorite scent? Does it have any memories attached to it? Would it make a good candle or not?
  • If you could instantly make one invention completely disappear from this world, what would it be and why?
  • If you could tell one thing to your great, great, great-grandson/daughter when they turn 16, what would it be?
  • Would you rather always have perfect hair or never run out of toilet paper?
  • What’s one thing your parents said to you that you will never forget?

Even though these types of questions have nothing to do with your relationship directly, you just might be surprised at how much a meaningless conversation here and there can do for the love you have for your honey.

Take some time today to let go of the heaviness of all the meaningful & important conversations. Instead, just sit and enjoy what your spouse has to say about the “nothings” of life!

Looking for more marriage resources? Click here!

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Oh, Valentine’s Day – the one day a year it’s okay to wear pink and red together, tell total strangers you love them, and spend way too much money on chocolate.

And don’t forget about celebrating your overwhelming, joyous love for your partner! Right?

For so many couples, Valentine’s Day is more of a routine than a holiday. Get the flowers? Check. Go out for dinner? Check. Eat (all) the chocolate? Check. Then… go back to the norm the next day. But why has the “day of love” turned into one day of over-the-top, mushy-gushy effort to prove our love to our partner?

It doesn’t have to be that way. You may have heard that couples should “treat every day like it’s Valentine’s Day,” and this is not a bad idea! Now, it doesn’t have to mean that you get flowers for your spouse every day or have a fancy meal each night. It does mean that you and your partner choose to express and celebrate your love for each other every day of the year.

It will look a little different for each couple. But here are a few great ways you and your spouse can celebrate Valentine’s Day every day!

  • COMMIT TO SERVE. The humility it takes to serve one another is a great foundation in any relationship. Commit to serving your partner in their needs and wants. Maybe they need some alone time, or they want to try out a new restaurant. Be aware of ways that you can give to your partner and go for it!
  • ALWAYS FORGIVE. This is easier said than done, of course! But try letting go of previous pains or arguments and focusing on the conflict as the problem. It’s a great way to start the process of forgiveness!
  • CELEBRATE THE GOOD. Every couple is guilty of forgetting to do this. Even something as simple as writing a thank-you note to your partner is a great way to bond!
  • BE GENEROUS. This is not financial generosity, but generosity with who you are, the energy you have, and what you give to your love. A balanced relationship is not where each is giving 50%, but where both are giving 100%.
  • ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER. This may not happen as frequently as most couples wish, but a “thank you,” “I’m proud of you,” or “You were great when…” can totally transform a relationship.

Don’t let Valentine’s Day be the one day a year you think through how you can love your spouse the best. Choose to do at least one thing every day to put a smile on your partner’s face, and see just how far it will take you!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Do you remember those lively dodgeball games during recess? What about freeze tag, kickball, Four Square or climbing on the jungle gym? Many parents today likely have great memories of running around outdoors during school recess. And, chances are pretty good that once you got home from school, you played outside after finishing your homework. However, that is not the case for many children, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is concerned about the impact that lack of play is having on children.

The AAP states that the most powerful way children learn isn’t only in the classroom or libraries, but rather on playgrounds and in playrooms. The importance of playful learning for children cannot be overemphasized.

Experts define play as an activity that is fun and engaging, which could define a number of activities. But the difference in play and other activities is that play has no set outcome, no score to achieve and nothing to produce. It’s just good, old-fashioned fun.

“We’re recommending that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s so important,” says pediatrician Michael Yogman, M.D., lead author of the AAP report. “Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills, including social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, all needed by the next generation in an economically competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation. The benefits of play cannot really be overstated in terms of mitigating stress, improving academic skills and helping to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience.”

Research indicates that family playtime enhances communication and tends to create a positive environment. Another benefit of letting the child direct the playtime is that it can help parents learn their child’s areas of interest.

Through the years, children’s playtime has been threatened, especially as schools have removed recess from the schedule in an effort to focus more on academics. A national survey of 8,950 preschool children and parents found that only 51 percent of children walked or played outside once a day with a parent. Additionally, surveys have found that as many as 94 percent of parents have safety concerns about outdoor play.

No one will be surprised to know that technology also impacts play. According to media research, the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of television a day, which is associated with greater risks of obesity. If you factor in the time that kids of all ages spend on their personal devices, and it’s easy to see that playing outdoors has been replaced with screen time.  And, it’s not just preschoolers who are living a sedentary lifestyle.

“Media use such as television, video games, smartphone and tablet apps are increasingly distracting children from play. It’s concerning when immersion in electronic media takes away time for real play, either outdoors or indoors,” says pediatrician Jeffrey Hutchinson, M.D., a co-author of the report.

The report encourages educators, pediatricians and families to advocate for and protect unstructured play and playful learning in preschools and schools because of the numerous benefits it offers in all areas of life and development.

If play isn’t something that comes naturally to you, here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Have a water fight with buckets, squirt guns and the hose.
  • Build a fort in your back yard or with the furniture and sheets in your family room.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Visit a children’s museum.
  • Make chalk drawings on the sidewalk.
  • Rake the leaves into big piles and jump in them.
  • Go for a walk in the rain and stomp in the mud puddles.
  • Play with Play-Doh.
  • Build something out of Legos.

“The next time your child wants to play with you, say yes. It’s one of the best parts of being a parent, and one of the best things you can do for your child,” Dr. Yogman says. “Play helps children learn language, math and social skills, and lowers stress. Play is important both for children and their parents since sharing joyful moments together during play can only enhance their relationship.”

The little girl was playing in the playground area of a fast food restaurant, yelling at her mom, “Watch me, Mama! Watch me!” Consumed by her cell phone, her mom did not hear her daughter calling to her. The child came down the slide, went over to her mom and started tugging on her arm, saying, “Mommy, Mommy, watch me.” At this point the mother looked at her daughter, seemingly irritated at the interruption, and said, “What?”

Perhaps you’ve been that mom at one point or another, and chances are good you’ve witnessed that mom. For some, that moment when a child is occupied on the safe playground is the opportunity to take a little break. For others, constant distractions keep parents from engaging with their kids.

Dr. Jenny Radesky is a fellow in developmental behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center. She and a team of researchers observed 55 caregivers, usually a parent, eating and interacting with one or more children, from infants to 10-year-olds, in fast-food restaurants. 

Out of 55 caregivers, 40 were involved with their phones during the meal. Sixteen of these adults used the mobile device throughout the meal. The researchers referred to this as “absorption with the mobile device.”

Three adults gave a device to a child to keep them occupied. One adult with a little girl picked up her phone as soon as she sat down, and she used it throughout the entire meal.

“The girl keeps eating, then gets up to cross the room to get more ketchup. Caregiver is not watching her do this; she is looking down at the phone…,” the notes showed. “Still no conversation… Now girl’s head appears to be looking right at caregiver, and caregiver looks up but not at girl…”

How much screen time is too much screen time when it comes to being an engaged parent? Perhaps the better question is, are you frequently distracted by your phone or some other device when your child is trying to get your attention? If you aren’t sure, The Gottman Institute encourages you to consider these questions:

  • When was the last time you played with your child or teenager?
  • What was the last conversation you shared as a family?
  • Ask your kids if they feel you are distracted. Honesty can go a long way in opening up communication. Just avoid responding defensively and ask more about what they need from you.
  • Think about the last conversation you had with an adult. Were they on their phone? Did you make eye contact? Did you feel heard?
  • What makes you feel heard? The same things that make you feel heard probably apply to the children and teens in your life. Have an open conversation about what listening looks like in different settings.

Many young people complain that their parents nag at them for always being on their phone, yet they believe their parents are as consumed by technology as they are. Perhaps one of the most important things for parents to remember is that children are very good at copying the behavior that parents model for them. 

Technology isn’t going away. When parents decide to put down the cell phone, turn off the game, and walk away from the emails on the computer to focus on their children, it sends a significant message: You matter. You are more important than the screen. I value you. 

Face-to-face relationships beat technology any day of the week.