Simple Secret of Happy Families

Keep a journal, be open with your kids, share the housework -- these are just a few of the surprisingly easy ways parents can strengthen family ties.

1.  Find a community that fits your family. Key questions to ask: How well do you know the neighbors? Are there lots of children in the area? Can your kids play safely outdoors? Are you impressed with the schools, library, and other services? People who are highly satisfied with their neighborhood are 25 percent more likely to be happy with their family life.

2. Get a pet. An animal offers unconditional love, trust, and acceptance. Whether your child has just had a bad day or is facing a real crisis, Rover can make it all seem better. Family members who are under stress are 22 percent more likely to feel hopeful if there's an animal in their life.

3. Talk to your kids. When we don't communicate with our children, they're more likely to feel pessimistic and insecure. When kids are upset and withdrawn, it's up to you to start a conversation and ask what's bothering them. Your kids need to hear from you to know you really care.

4. Write down your thoughts. Research shows that parents who keep a journal are happier with their family life. Recording your reflections about the world, your hopes and dreams -- or anything else that's on your mind -- gives you some nourishing personal space.

5. Share the chores with everyone. Maybe you think it's easier to do the housework yourself. But when you, your husband, and the kids share the work, it shows commitment and mutual respect. When household tasks are divided fairly, family happiness is increased by 32 percent.

6. Be nice to your in-laws. Having a good relationship with your husband's parents -- and vice versa -- not only helps everyone in the family get along but also lets you better understand the person you married.

7. Tell your family story. Sharing memories about past generations strengthens family bonds. Talking about your history gives kids a sense of who they are and where they came from.

8. Believe in yourself. There's nothing mysterious about great parenting -- it's about being present in your kids' lives and offering love, understanding, and reassurance. So be the best mom or dad you can be, and feel good about what you're doing!

9. Don't coddle your children. Kids raised by ultraprotective parents are less likely to form strong social relationships outside the family. Don't shield your children from negative stuff -- explain it. Let them know that bad things do happen but that you'll always try to keep them safe.

10. Treat your husband and kids the way you treat your friends. It's inevitable: We sometimes take our family members for granted. Cheer them on, nurture them, be there for them -- just as you are for your best girlfriends.

11. Control your temper. Studies show that four out of ten families regularly yell during arguments. Behavior like this is intimidating to kids and doesn't solve any problems. When you're too angry to think straight, excuse yourself from the discussion.

12. Cherish traditions. Whether it's a weekly pizza night or a yearly holiday event, family traditions build bonds. Consistent rituals encourage your child's social development and boost family togetherness.

13. Show up on time. It may sound trivial, but always being there when you say you're going to sends a powerful message. It teaches your kids to be responsible and demonstrates how much they matter to you.

14. Welcome other adults into your family. An aunt, an uncle, or a close friend can offer your child a fresh perspective and be a role model. Studies show that kids who have nonparental adults in their lives are happier.

14. Welcome other adults into your family. An aunt, an uncle, or a close friend can offer your child a fresh perspective and be a role model. Studies show that kids who have nonparental adults in their lives are happier.

15. Tell 'em you love 'em.  Even if your affection for the kids and your hubby is obvious to you, they need to hear it -- often.

Adapted by Parents from 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families, by David Niven. Published by arrangement with HarperSanFrancisco. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the August 2004 issue of Parents magazine.

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