Healthy Habits for Happy Families
Updated: May 19
Habits and the Family
A habit is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.
As individuals we create, develop and reinforce habits throughout our lives, and the same happens within the family space.
Simple things such as who cooks dinner, cleans the pool, tidies the dogs mess, or makes the coffee in the morning may begin as new behaviours, but over time and with reinforcement, they become the habits that can continue for years, and often lead to expectations being established.
Family conflict, frustrations and tension often result from unmet expectations (this applies to most relationships). We are creatures of habit, and we generally tend to look for routines, patterns and roles that are predictable and comfortable for us. This allows us to feel safe and secure in our comfort zones. But over time, things around us change and the effects can be seen throughout our lives, as our comfort zones and routines are forced to change.
Change is normal and natural, and we should expect it, but the funny thing is, so many of us are surprised when change comes along. A baby becoming a toddler or a teenager for example can come as quite a surprise to some. We need to remember that change brings change. It can have a snowball effect, and it can disrupt the equilibrium that we have been able to create. Having a child for example creates significant change in all aspects of our lives.
Sometimes we can hang on to our ideas of how we want things to be, or how we imagine things should be, which can cause havoc in our relationships as these expectations may be assumed and not understood or communicated clearly. When change comes along, chaos ensues. If we are not able to adjust our expectations and roll with the punches life throws, we are going to be faced with some very challenging situations. We logically know that life is complicated, and reality is not straightforward, yet often we forget this. Reality is messy, chaotic and unpredictable, it requires constant adjustment and adaptation.
This is one of the most important lessons we need to teach our children. We need to teach them that we can either engage with life and get frustrated when things don't go our way, or we can teach them that life happens, and we need to anticipate, roll with the punches and embrace the opportunities presented to us. Leading by example and teaching your children some essential habits that will help guide them through life should remain a primary goal of being a parent.
Highly Effective Families
The original 7 Habits book written by Stephen Covey has been edited and adapted for numerous audiences including children, teens, and marriage in addition to families as a whole. The 7 habits contained in each book remains consistent with only the explanation and understanding adapted to suit the different readers. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families is not written to be a quick fix or to offer tricks to be an effective family, but rather offers insight into the patterns of thinking and doing things that all successful families have in common.
The Family Flight Plan
Just like aeroplanes, families are not on course 100% of the time, which is normal, however it has become even more difficult to keep a family on course due to many societal changes we all experience. Considering this we need to do what we can to remain on course as a family and the following are essential for the “journey” ahead:
“Flight Plan” - clear understanding of family values, parental dynamic and general direction one would like their family to move in. “Destination” - Clear vision of where or what a family is moving towards. “Compass” - To assist in staying on course. This could be support structures in and around the family that are able to provide the insight and direction when needed.
Personal Bank Accounts
The starting point according to Covey is with ourselves. The way we feel and treat ourselves as well as those around us will greatly determine the course of our journey. Covey refers to the Personal Bank Account (PBA) which functions similarly to a regular bank account in that we should aim to make more deposits than withdrawals so that we can be in a healthy, positive space. We make “deposits” through positive thoughts and behaviours such as achieving goals or even complementing others. Withdrawals on the other hand are the negative thoughts and behaviours we have such as blaming someone for a problem or being negatively critical of others. We should assess the state of our PBA and strive towards building up a healthy, positive balance.
Habit 1: Be proactive
“Between the stimulus and the response there is the freedom to choose. Being proactive requires one to take action before having to react to a situation. This habit requires accepting rather than rejecting, understanding instead of judging and participation as opposed to manipulation. Being proactive requires one to be an active participant in life and not a passive, reactive bystander.
Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind
“Through a family mission statement, you can let your children know that you are totally committed to them, that you have been from the very moment of their birth or adoption.” Be clear on where you are going as an individual and as a family. It is crucial to have a clear view of the destination so that you are able to make the necessary changes and adjustments now to help you get there.
Habit 3: Put first things first
“Who’s going to raise my children—today’s alarmingly destructive culture or me?” It is important to focus on what is important, and to do what needs to be done first. Our families and children should always remain at the centre of all we do as we are the ones who shape, equip and ultimately determine their futures. We often get caught up in work and life and can lose sight of the most important things in our lives that we take for granted.
Habit 4:Think win-win
“Parenting is not about being popular and giving in to every child’s whim and desire. It’s about making decisions that truly are win-win—however they may appear to the child at the time.” This applies directly to discipline at home, where discipline is crucial in teaching and training your children to handle the real world. For it to be win-win it needs to be non-emotional and handled in a very direct, matter of
fact way, consistently carrying out consequences agreed on beforehand.
Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
“Much of the pain in families is caused by lack of understanding.” Take the time to step out of your own busy life to learn and understand what is happening in your children’s lives. Let them see you genuinely trying to understand them and they will appreciate your effort and be more cooperative.
Habit 6: Synergise
“Synergy is...the magic that happens when one plus one equals three—or more.” Working together towards a collective goal is at the core of this habit. Combine all your strengths in a family so that you can achieve so much more. This is a collaborative process and can require you as the parent to step back and give your children a chance to lead.
Habit 7: Sharpen the saw
We often work so hard and are so focused on achieving deadlines and goals that we forget to take care of ourselves. “...the family itself must constantly nurture its collective conscience, social will, social awareness, and common vision. Family traditions include rituals and celebrations and meaningful events that you do in your family.”
Take the time to reenergise and reconnect as a family and tasks and challenges ahead become less daunting. Taking the time to make the adjustments and to take control of your family’s ‘journey’ will go a long way in helping to shape your children into the adults you want them to be, and then be the parents you want them to remember. These changes take time, effort and persistence to be effective, and it is definitely not guaranteed that this will be a smooth journey.