Families that eat together, stay together. It’s that simple. “Family dinners are essential,” Boteach says. “It’s a time to connect.” Have a minimum of four family dinners per week, he suggests.
“Have one or two unifying activities that the family does together on a nightly basis,” Boteach says. He suggests bedtime stories for young children or reading a chapter from a novel to an older child. “In happy families, family comes before friends,” he says, “The camp counselor understands something that parents don’t and that is that caring for kids also has to be fun. Give rules, but understand that kids need fun, too. When kids get bored and listless, they start looking for excitement out of the home and that is when friends become more important. Friendship is important, but subordinate to family.”
Limit Children’s After-School Activities
Today, growing numbers of kids are overscheduled and participate in six or seven after-school activities per week. The mother becomes a chauffer and the children are never home at the same time. This is not a recipe for a happy family, Boteach says. “If your kids grow up not knowing how to do ballet, they will be OK. No after-school activities is an extreme and too many activities is the other extreme, but moderation is where we should aim.” Create your own after-school activities as a family, he suggests. For example, take your kids rollerblading, bike riding, or swimming after school as a family.
Build and Honor Rituals
“Families need rituals,” Boteach says. Rituals can be religious, national, or even family-specific, he says.
Barbara Fiese, PhD, professor and chair of psychology at Syracuse University in New York, agrees. “Happy families have meaningful rituals and are not stressed out by them,” she says. “They can be unique to your own family such as going for bagels on Saturday morning, a weekly pizza night, or even a family song. Rituals tend to bring family members close together because they are repeated over time.”
To work, rituals need to be flexible, she adds. “They can’t be rigid,” Fiese says. “If the bagel place is closed, you have to go someplace else.”