Rediscover forgotten luxury of happiness
HAPPINESS may be the greatest gift that we possess, but in the hectic whirl of modern family life, it's often a lost treasure.
Parents get so wrapped up in the trials and tribulations of bringing up kids, from the slog of sleepless nights with a newborn, to the challenges of teenage conflict, that the pursuit of happiness can become a forgotten luxury.
But happiness should be at the core of family life, argues agony aunt Suzie Hayman, whose belief in the power of being happy appears to be shared by Prime Minister David Cameron, who created a national "happiness index" which published its first results in July.
Hayman, a trustee of the parenting charity Family Lives, has written the book Teach Yourself How To Have A Happy Family Life in a bid to help get families back on the road to happiness.
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She says that for many families who are just "getting by", low-grade conflict or stress is seen as normal.
"But both are not just uncomfortable," she warns, "they are destructive and painful and ultimately extremely damaging."
Indeed, she points out that many of the ills in today's society, such as antisocial behaviour, vandalism and crime, stem from unhappy childhoods.
Certainly, a report by Unicef last year concluded that British children are among the least happy in the developed world, because of a lack of contact with their parents and too much emphasis on material gain.
Hayman hopes her book will help combat this unhappiness both by encouraging more family time together, and tackling the many flashpoints in family life, right from starting off as a new couple to living with grandparents, with a view to steering towards a happy ending.
She stresses that certain ground rules are needed in a happy family, such as routine, children doing chores, boundaries and rules, but points out that once they're in place "it's like having a safety belt and you're then free".
She champions routines not just for obvious situations such as bedtimes and before school, but for when parents want kids to do as they've asked without it ending in conflict.
To avoid mealtime rows, for example, she says before starting cooking a parent should make eye contact with their child, touch them and say their name rather than shouting from the other room.
Then tell them when the food will be ready and ask them to repeat what has been said.
Check with them every five minutes with a countdown, repeating the eye contact, etc. When you say the meal's ready, descriptively praise them if they come straight away, telling them exactly why you're pleased with them.
Clearly, this isn't happy-clappy preaching, but down-to-earth, sensible advice that steers away from family conflict – although Hayman stresses that it all takes time and effort, and concedes that every so often parents will "lose it", forget about being the parent they want to be and shout, snap and be impatient and unfair.
But she says this is unlikely to scar children for life, as long as the loss of control is a one-off and you're doing your best.