It’s a tough world out there for kids growing up now. Anxiety and mental health issues are on the rise. How do we protect our kids and help them become more resilient in a challenging world?

It’s tempting to think of this as an individual problem, but many of the answers are in the collective connection of your family. Our individual sense of security and groundedness lies in our secure and loving connections with others—and that’s what we can provide for our children in our families (no matter how big or small).

Here are 5 regular habits to take up to help your kids feel secure and foster their resilience:

#1 Family Meals

I know many families who end up eating separately from their children because of different meal times, different food preferences, or wanting to have some alone time with a spouse. Unfortunately, this has some major consequences for children and adults. If the habit of a family meal isn’t established when kids are younger, it will often just go on that way as kids move into adolescence, when kids are naturally spending more time away from parents. I know some parents who feel totally shut off from their teens because they barely ever spend time with them, eating meals separately. Don’t do this!

According to Ann Fishel, a Harvard researcher, there are dozens of studies that document that family dinners are great for the body, the physical health, the brains and academic performance, and nutrition of growing kids and teens.

What’s more, regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, and anxiety, and substance abuse, and eating disorders, and tobacco use, and early teenage pregnancy, and higher rates of resilience and higher self esteem.

If you can’t do family meals every day, aim for four days a week. This regular habit can be a lifeline that keeps your family connected and foster resilience in your kid.

#2 Conversation that Connects

What do you say in these family meals? One of the habits that we have in our family is for everyone to share a “rose, thorn, and bud,” at our dinner table. The rose is something good from your day, the thorn is a challenge, and the bud is something that you’re looking forward to.

Our communication is the lifeblood of our connection to our child. In our conversation, rather than lecture or impart judgment, we should aim to listen with curiosity. Our children truly want to feel seen, heard, and accepted and we can give them that through listening. When we listen with interest and acceptance of our kid’s feelings and thoughts, we give them a great gift (in a world where many don’t really listen).

Let your conversation be truly connecting by practicing mindful listening. Practice to be really present—bring your attention back to the moment again and again. This simple but profound act is what builds your strong connection.

#3 Chores

Whatever age your child is, they can benefit from contributing to the running of the household.
Research suggests there are benefits to including chores in a child's routine as early as age 3. Children who do chores may exhibit higher self-esteem, be more responsible, and be better equipped to deal with frustration, adversity, and delayed gratification. Of course this can lead to greater success in school, work, and relationships.

When your child is little, take advantage of the “Me do it!” phase and get them involved right away (rather than handing them an iPad and teaching them the lesson that their role is to be entertained while you do all the work)!

Here are some things your child can do:

  • 2 to 3-year-olds can put toys and groceries away and dress themselves with help.
  • 4 to 5-year-olds can help feed pets, make their beds (maybe not perfectly), and help clear the table after dinner.
  • 6 to 7-year-olds can wipe tables and counters, put laundry away, and sweep floors.
  • 7 to 9-year-olds can load and unload the dishwasher, help with meal preparation, and pack their own lunch for school.
  • 10 to 11-year-olds can change their sheets, clean the kitchen or bathrooms, and do yard work.
  • Those 12 and above can wash the car and help out with younger siblings. Teens can help with grocery shopping and running errands.

#4 Intentional Screen-Free Time

More and more evidence is coming out that since 2010, parents have been overprotective in the outside world, and underprotective when it comes to digital devices, leading to a huge rise in adolescent mental health issues.

Smartphones and tablets may keep little kids quiet at a restaurant but that comes at a cost: it acts as a stimulant in their brains—but without any physical movement involved it can leave them hyper. Screens block real-world experiences and prevent kids from important developmental experiences, limiting them physically, mentally, and emotionally. Kids need real-life experiences with people, plants, animals, etc. for healthy development.

Not just little kids—in our family we’ve taken to calling the device the “experience blocker” (or if we’re feeling really cheeky, a “fondle slab”). It’s important for ALL of us to intentionally protect some of our time from screens and remind ourselves how to live, cope, and enjoy the natural world and each other without interventions.

In our family, one of the BEST habits we ever established was Screen-Free Sunday. Each week we consciously take time away from screens. I don’t check email. I don’t do social media, etc. It’s a healthy pause in this overly 2-dimensional life.

#5 Family Movie/Game Nights

I encourage you to have a regular night in your family where you play games or use screens in a healthy way by watching a movie all together. Watching movies together is a great opportunity for us to connect with our children and for siblings to bond. It’s a chance for everyone to share their opinions and thoughts on the film and have a connecting conversation.

Movies can be a great way to encourage creativity and imagination in children. By exposing them to different worlds, cultures, and characters, they can broaden their horizons and develop their imagination.

Games are just great, bonding fun: picture gathering around the table, looking one another right in the eye, and playing real-life, interactive games together. Games can be beneficial for kids academically too. Researchers from the University of Florida have found that kids who practice strategizing and solving problems with their parents end up having better memory techniques and more success at solving all sorts of problems on their own.

Over time, these movie or game nights will create lasting memories and strengthen the relationships within the family.

Which of these 5 habits would you like to establish in your family? I invite you to have a conversation with your parenting partner if you have one. What’s important to you? What habits do you have now that will be healthy as your children get older?

We support families in building healthy, grounding habits and skillful communication inside of Mindful Parenting. If you’d like to know more or get on the waitlist,
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Thank you so much for reading! I hope that this supports a more peaceful, healthy family in your world.