This Monday 20th March, people, organisations and governments around the world are marking International Day of Happiness - a day for everyone to promote happiness and kindness. Where better to start practicing this than within our own families? For me, happiness doesn't mean we have to be happy all the time or be forever free from difficult feelings, such a goal is impossible. Rather it means aiming to feel fulfilled and having the ability to reach our potential, both of which I believe can be achieved by supporting good emotional health in ourselves and our families. Emotional health refers to a set of social and emotional competencies and beliefs including self-esteem, self-awareness, empathy, emotional regulation and relationship skills, which are all important to deal with daily life and challenges, but also to support children and positive family relationships.
So how can parents foster good emotional health within their families? There are a number of everyday things that we can all do for ourselves and each other to create an environment in which our family members feel valued, loved and appreciated. Some of these tips may seem like small acts, but they can make a big difference to relationships and communication between family members, and indeed any relationship.
- Keep each other in mind
Stay tuned in to what is going on for the different members of your family. If someone has an important meeting or a lesson they're not looking forward to at school, check in with that person at the end of the day. By doing this, we prove to that person they're being thought about and it shows we're aware of what is going on for them.
- Have regular whole-family time
Putting time aside to spend together as a family is a great way to enjoy each other's company and have fun. The activity does not have to be a big or expensive thing. It could be watching a TV programme that everyone enjoys, playing a game, or just being silly together. A little bit of light heartedness goes a long way.
- Find regular individual time with everyone
While it is important to take time as a whole family, we also need to maintain our relationships with each individual family member. Every few days, try to have a few minutes one-on-one with each other person to see how they are and tune into what is going on for them.
- Try to regularly spend meal times together
It is not always possible to eat a meal all together, but having at least one meal a week with the whole family can be really beneficial for relationships. Sharing food is an important social activity, and it can be a focussed time of day to check in with each other round a table, with distractions, like phones, out of the way.
- Listen to each other
This might seem like an obvious one, but actually being listened to can make a significant difference to how valued we feel, so we know our opinions and experiences matter to our family. This also encourages the idea that each person's voice matters equally, whether they are a parent/guardian or a child.
- Encourage and model open, honest feelings
We cannot all be happy all of the time, and it is not emotionally healthy to bottle up feelings like anger, jealousy and frustration. By modelling a healthy expression of a range of emotions to children, we give the message that it is okay to acknowledge all feelings, even if they are not always comfortable.
- Take time for yourself
Good emotional health starts with you. If we do not look after ourselves as individuals, it will become impossible to help or support others. Check in with yourself to see how you are feeling, and do things regularly to nurture your own wellbeing. This could be anything from going for a walk on your lunchbreak to socialising with friends. By regularly doing things to look after ourselves, we prevent "burn out" and become better able to give out to other aspects of our lives, including maintaining emotionally healthy relationships in our families.