Your family can be a “dream team” with some intentional parenting.
This post is written by Matt Brown from liftyourgame.net, a site that helps athletes improve their performance in a variety of different sports.
You probably know one or two families in your wider social circles that seem like “dream teams”. You might see them at your kids’ sports games, at restaurants, or on social media.
It’s important to remember that no family is perfect. Just because you caught them on a good day doesn’t mean that the family is perfectly cohesive, and always agrees with each other one every single time. If there were no disagreements at all, this would probably actually be quite unhealthy.
However, it is true that many families are able to respect one another, and work together to foster a positive, supportive atmosphere in their household. This could manifest in behaviors such as kids volunteering to help with chores without being asked, disagreements being resolved through calm, rational discussion, and everyone’s needs being taken into account when making group decisions.
Depending on the health of your household, achieving such a state of affairs might seem difficult.
However, there are ways you can work to get everyone on the same page, and make your family a true dream team.
Every team has a set of players, just like in sports. For each player to work well with one another, they must understand each others’ wants, needs, and points of view. Doing so often requires a subconscious effort which, contrary to popular belief, can be taught.
As an example, imagine if a parent goes away on an unexpected trip, or gets sick for an extended period. If the kids are of a certain maturity, they should make the logical connection that since their parent is out of action, their regular duties will not be undertaken.
However, if the children are empathic enough to understand the needs of the broader family, they will step in to help. You want to be in a position where any family member can go above and beyond where necessary. Young kids might need a nudge in the right direction, but ideally, there should be minimal complaining.
The key to developing this sense of responsibility, and willingness to help for the good of the family, is to develop empathy.
Experts now agree that empathy can, in fact, be taught, with enough effort. It just requires that you model empathic behavior to your kids at a very young age. You can do this by comforting your child when they are upset, or asking them how they think the other person feels when they misbehave (after sibling fights, for example).
Your partner needs to be on board with this approach. Being inconsistent can lead children to feel confused about what actions are appropriate, leading to unpredictable responses in different situations.
Empathy is also essential for effective conflict resolution. It enables us to understand the other person’s point of view, rather than responding by blocking it out. If everyone is on the same page, arguments become debates, or even just discussions.
Effective teams understand each other. This is why empathy is the baseline for family cohesion.
Bond as a Team
There’s a reason “team bonding” exercises are so popular in the corporate world. They give groups the opportunity to work together, but in a (hopefully) fun and relaxed environment.
However, it’s not just a good idea to Google “team bonding activities” and do the first one that shows up. You need to design the activity based on the needs of your specific family.
For young kids, fun is the name of the game. You want to maximize engagement in the activity, and prevent your children from getting bored. Fortunately, a lot of kids under the age of 13 should be quite open to your suggestions, especially if you’ve done things as a family before.
If you’ve got teenagers though, things are a bit more difficult.
At this stage, you can’t force teens to participate in family activities – they are likely to want to explore their independence as much as possible. Be sure to communicate what you need, rather than forcing the issue. It’s a good idea to test the waters by suggesting shorter activities which involve less time or emotional investment.
It’s impossible for us to suggest specific activities because every family member will have different interests. But try to do something that you think everyone will enjoy. For athletic families, sport is always a great place to start. But don’t force the issue if your kids refuse. Simply ask them what they would like to do instead.
If they still refuse, you can try asking at another time, or say something like “well that’s a little boring, isn’t it?”. If this still doesn’t work, get your partner to back you up. If the kids are outnumbered, or evenly-matched, this tips the odds in your favor in the discussion. Remember to try and keep it as just that – a discussion!
For some targeted advice, it can be worth investing in family coaching, to take into account your specific situation. Contact Janis for a free introductory coaching lesson to learn more about building your dream team.