How to stick together

Want a happy family? Learn to stick together through the rough spots and practice what you preach, says Scott Haltzman, M.D., clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and author of The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight Keys to Building a Lifetime of Connection and Contentment. Dr. Haltzman gives tips on how to bond.

Scott HaltzmanSheKnows: Why did you feel the need to write The Secrets of Happy Families?

Scott Haltzman: I wanted a book that addresses the many definitions of what constitutes a healthy and dynamic family. I also wanted to emphasize that adults are responsible for modeling behavior to their children, parents and the community at large.

SK: What were you most surprised to learn about happy families?

SH: The book is based on a survey of more than 1,200 people. The most surprising finding was that these individuals determined that the most important factor leading to a happy family was resiliency — the ability to bounce back from bad experiences. I hadn’t realized that people knew about, or appreciated the importance of resiliency. But I found that just about every person had a story to tell of challenge, misfortune or loss, and that most pointed to their ability to bounce back from these events as being pivotal to the strength of the family.

Don’t be a hypocrite

The Secrets of Happy Families - Scott HaltzmanSK: What should parents avoid doing?

SH: Don’t do the things you tell your children not to do! Don’t smoke cigarettes, drink or do drugs (even in private — unless you want your children to do drugs in private). Keep your commitments. Be on time. Tell the truth. Try to see the other guy’s point of view. Be charitable and thoughtful. Don’t engage in road rage. Laugh a lot!

Another area of parenting that presents a real challenge these days is overscheduling and overwhelming children with stimuli. You should limit the number of after-school activities. Ideally, no more than one organized sport and one organized creative pursuit at a time. Don’t let technology interfere with your family connections. Periodically you should have “screen-free days,” where cell phones, computers and TVs are put aside.

Stick together

SK: How can parents teach their kids how to stick together — a crucial indicator of a successful family?

SH: The first way to get this message across to children is through role modeling. It’s hard to convince a child that, “we stick together through thick and thin,” if you’ve broken off relationships with your parents, siblings or your child’s other parent. Take a good look at how you treat your family and ask whether it’s how you want your children to act.

Try to focus your attention on helping your kids see their siblings’ point of view — to develop empathy. Your children are naturally inclined to see themselves as the center of the universe, but you can creatively ask them to imagine how others must feel. You can use household issues, their favorite TV show or any current event to foster discussion and ask them to step out of their skin.

Reward your children for being good. Even small acts of kindness should be recognized and reinforced. When kids begin to see that they get more attention for sharing or complimenting than they do for hoarding or antagonizing, they will start doing more of the behaviors that you want. It’s a simple credo: Catch them being good!

Hey Moms!

What are your secrets to creating a happy family life? Share your thoughts and stories in Comments below.

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Comments on "Parenting Guru: Secrets to a happy family"

Megan February 02, 2013 | 1:41 AM

I really like the idea of a 12 second kiss,or even a hug. My husband and I dont find the time for ourselves and i think this is a great start before our baby gets too old. thanks for the idea. before we had our first child we use to do "check ins" and check in and see how we each were doing/feeling about our relationship..and fine tuning we could do.Now we are lucky if we get enough sleep, or are able to talk to each other.

Lauren February 01, 2013 | 3:48 PM

I love the "12 second kiss" comment. That's awesome you guys do that! I was going to say that a secret to a happy family starts with a happy marriage. The marriage is the foundation of the family, so always make time for your spouse above all else.

Bon Crowder January 30, 2013 | 6:37 PM

My husband read somewhere about a "12 second kiss." Since then everytime we greet each other - either leaving or coming - we share a 12 second kiss. No matter what's going on, if you smootch for 12 seconds, you'll probably forget about it and think about how cool that guy is that you dedicated your life to all those years ago!

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