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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Simple routines keep families happy

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Sick of hearing yourself say 'no'? Have a Yes Day to counteract the negatives.

To counteract the negatives, she filled a cup with six "Have a nice day" slips of paper and a single "Have a Yes Day" one. If Aurora draws the latter at breakfast, her requests (Can I stay up late? Can I watch TV before breakfast?) get a yes. And so do Suzy and Lorene's: Will you walk the dog with me? Will you try a little bite of fish? Yes!

Why it's awesome: It's not just that there aren't any nos on Yes Days, it's that there are fewer nos every day, since Aurora tends to save up all her asking. And Yes Days have turned out to be more about individual stretching and family togetherness than the anticipated screen and junk-food excesses. "I love the unspoken 'within reason' part," Suzy says. Aurora keeps it reasonable, says Suzy, because she knows there will always be another Yes Day.

Who does it: Lorraine (LiEr) Teigland, blogger,; spouse, David; Emily, age 9; Jenna, 7; Kate, 5.

What they do: LiEr is known for turning out gorgeous craft projects on her blog, but each week she calls a time-out to have tea with her three daughters. It's an idea inspired by her own childhood in Singapore.

"The kids are especially famished after being at school all day, and we miss each other during the week." So every Friday, they do a special tea to mark the end of the school week in a ceremonious way. Sometimes LiEr bakes scones, and they set out a pretty cloth and the tiered serving trays; other times it's store-bought muffins on a bare table or hot chocolate at Barnes & Noble.

Why it's awesome: Sitting down together to break bread – or scones – has proven benefits but, says LiEr, "It's not so much about the eating," it's about giving her girls an occasion they can count on, a moment to breathe, even when life gets busy with school.

"We play card games and talk about our week, maybe plan for the weekend," LiEr explains. "It's something special they look forward to."

Who does it: Emily Neuburger, author of Show Me A Story; spouse, Tom; Leah, age 8; Hazel, 6. (Baby Oliver isn't quite ready to participate.)

Use movies to spark discussion. (Shannon Greer/FamilyFun Magazine/MCT)

Use movies to spark discussion.

What they do: Emily prolongs the fun of family getaways by curating a digital vacation slide show, complete with a songs-of-the-moment soundtrack. The crew sits down together to savour it, then works back through past slide shows to see the same shots in different years: seaside ice cream, mini golf, the girls in the backseat of the car.

"They clamour to watch last year's, and the year before, and it's like a rabbit hole. They love it. And we get to see how much they've changed."

Why it's awesome: "We're making meaning and memories for them," Emily explains. Indeed, according to happiness expert Lyubomirsky, reminiscing about wonderful times is another one of those research-proven mood boosters.

"When we asked people to think about the best day in their life and replay it in their mind, like a videotape, that increased their happiness levels," she says.

Movie nights

Who does it: David Vienna, blogger,; spouse, Larissa; Wyatt and Boone, age 5.

What they do: "Before we had kids, every night was Movie Night," recalls David. "Except, we just called it 'night'." And now this "total movie nerd" is sharing the love with his twin boys. Once a weekend, the family orders in a pizza and watches whatever movie strikes the boys' fancies.

"We finish every screening by talking about what the story taught us. And the wonderful thing is, even if we've seen it before, the lesson may differ."

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Get siblings to bond over board games. (Shannon Greer/FamilyFun Magazine/MCT)

Get siblings to bond over board games

When they watched The Sword In The Stone, for example, the first time they talked about how Wart learned that brains often defeat brawn; after the second viewing, they discussed how practice helps you master a skill. "Seriously, I think my boys could skip school and just watch this movie on repeat to learn everything I want them to know."

Why it's awesome: For David, the post-movie chitchat is key. "When a movie ends, we say, 'OK, guys, what did we learn? How did you interpret it?'" He thinks such discussions will give them skills to find lessons in the films' stories and in their life experiences.

Of course, the big ideas come with a load of giggles, and that helps, too. Studies show that laughing together can build stronger relationships.

Board games bonding

Who does it: Elizabeth Foy Larsen, co-author of Unbored: The Essential Field Guide To Serious Fun; spouse, Walter; Peter, age 14; Henrik, 11; Luisa, 9.

What they do: Board games are not just unboring for Elizabeth's family. They're an instant, low-cost way to bridge the family's sometimes tricky spread of ages and interests and serve as a mood booster during dark, endless Minnesota winters.

Why it's awesome: Playing brings the siblings closer – but without calling attention to itself as a bonding experience. You might say that the pointlessness of a game is its point exactly.

"We get instantly very, very silly, and then we're laughing together again, and we're all just softening toward each other. I notice that there's a nice little afterglow when we spend that time together."

Plus, putting screens aside in the evening and having some unplugged fun (another Healthy Habit!) promotes better sleep for all.

Kindness ritual

Who does it: Christine Carter, sociologist, happiness expert, and author of the book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps For More Joyful Kids And Happier Parents; spouse, Mark; Fiona, age 13; Molly, 11.

What they do: Four times a year, Fiona, Molly, and their grandfather fill ziplock bags with essentials (socks, bottled water, an energy bar, lip balm, sunscreen, and a tangerine) and distribute them, in person, to homeless people.

"Sometimes, they call it a Kindness Scavenger Hunt," Christine explains. They started including lip balm because one of the girls noticed that homeless people often have chapped lips. One of the kids wrote a note that said simply: "We see you and we care."

Why it's awesome: Multiple studies have shown that doing good deeds increases feelings of well-being and connectedness. For Christine's family, "it's an act of empathy and imagination."

Making and delivering those care packages benefits people in need, of course, but it has also given the girls "a really deep gratitude for their own home, and they experience their own power, their ability to help," Christine says. "Is it weird to say it's so much fun? But it really is! And the people are so appreciative. It's so positive for everybody." – Family Fun Magazine/ McClatchy Tribune Information Services

Coming to the table

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 08:00 AM PST

Life unfolds around tables in this household.

DINING tables are important to us, so we have four in our Sydney home. We dine at our tables daily – breakfast, lunch and dinner.

On winter nights, we usually seat ourselves cosily around the table in the living room where the heater is. This table stands in front of big bookshelves filled with books and photo frames. We love this spot as it oversees the maple tree in our front yard.

The light is dim here, compounding the rather 'romantic ambience". Sitting so close to my beloved husband and children gives me a romantic feeling because we all feel love.

Eating together at a table and away from the television (or gadgets) is important. It is the only time of the day when we are together, chatting and laughing away life's trivialities, though, at times, there are sorrows to be shared and acknowledged too. But on Friday nights, when the weather is cold, we confine ourselves to the house and have dinner at the coffee table in front of the television.

A good show and steaming hot food draw happiness out of our pores, binding our young family in love and humour.

In spring and summer, we love to munch our food slowly in the garden. That's where our third dining table is. No house is complete without a good al fresco deck, and we have a table and benches in the garden surrounded by blooming flowers. The pealing of wind chime accompanies our laughter and the occasional sneezing with spring's pollen wafting in the air. We love our garden – a pretty one – one that we promised our kids we would have.

Years ago, this corner of the house was a crumbling courtyard. Now, after much work, it has become an essential extension to our house, much loved by my kids as they laze in the hammock or do their stuff at the table. But when it comes to breakfast, everything on the table must go, because we wouldn't want to miss eating and chatting there.

It is a blessing to be able to sit and have a meal together. For those who lead busy lives, this is such a luxury. I rarely sat with my son when we were living a hectic pace in Kuala Lumpur. Then, we'd eat buffet-style, and I always ate alone. It was not until we moved to Sydney that we had proper dining tables, cutleries and placemats for formal and family meals. Five years of eating together has strengthened our bond.

"Never miss a meal together," my husband always says to our kids. And that is also a way to draw our children home when they become teenagers. The fun we have at mealtimes around our dining tables will lure them back, I am sure.

"What do we have for dinner?" is always the question from my children. It is a good question because they seem to look forward to dinnertime.

"But I have not had my dinner?" my daughter frowned one night shortly before bedtime. She felt something amiss as we had had our dinner early in a restaurant. She missed our dinner routine and felt weird.

So, I served her a small bowl of soup with some leftover rice. She tucked into her meal on the high chair at the marble table in the kitchen. This fourth table of ours was custom made. It is the centrepiece of our kitchen, providing us plenty of room to cook, work, read, write and eat.

The children have had countless bowls of soup at this table and countless more of porridge when flu strikes and hay fever disrupts life. It is at this table that we dish out medicine and vitamins. It is also at this table that we joke about each other's doodles.

Yet another table indeed, and the day when it was installed was the day we officially settled in as a family. I have vowed to make ours a household of humour and love. Tables pull us together, and in our home, there are more than dining tables. The most popular work desk is mine as my children love to muck around in my study or simply sit next to me, doodling.

The most charming table is a refurbished round stool I picked up from a flea market. It holds the first lamp we bought, a lamp that provides my kids comfort when they get up in the middle of a chilly night.

There is a makeshift table, too. It is none other than a big storage box under a pretty quilt. My daughter used to draw there when she was little and short. All these tables, and whatever is in or on them, are our household treasures. Around them sit our family, living with light-heartedness and understanding.

Tables, tables, tables ... I believe there is still room for one more.


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