It’s not surprising that families experience stress, given that you have a group of different – or perhaps too similar – personalities sharing a space, as well as all the outside pressures that life brings with it, such as work and providing for the parents, and school, studies and peer pressure for the kids.
But whatever the dynamics, there are ways to calm your space and enjoy your loved ones, if not all then certainly most of the time. Here are some vital tips to help relieve stress in your home.
De-stressor 1: Share the load
Keeping a home tidy may be a challenge if you have toddlers, but children of school-going age and older can all pitch in to keep their spaces tidy. The trick is to start with small things, like packing away toys, and later progressing to making their beds, tidying their rooms and sorting laundry.
At about nine or 10 years of age, children can assist with washing and drying dishes. Before this starts to sound militant, remember that you are not only teaching children responsibility and caring for the things around them, but also valuable skills of how to work together. It also alleviates the stress of any one family member having to take on the lion’s share of household chores.
Both parents can be positive role models here, that is, dad can set the table or help kids with homework, while mom cooks (and the other way around on alternate evenings).
De-stressor 2: Cherish the little things
Shared household activities bring with it other benefits, too. The University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Center on the Everyday Lives of Families conducted a study between 2002 and 2005 that saw teams of researchers occupying 32 volunteer families’ homes from morning till bedtime. Researchers observed and recorded the household goings-on, taking note of activities, stressors and family dynamics.
Researchers noted that the unexpected shared moments were often more significant than the planned ones, that is, spending 10 minutes plaiting a child’s hair before school or an impromptu game of ‘find the socks’, while folding the laundry brought closeness in the midst of daily life.
Another interesting observation was the ‘greeting dad’ ritual. It may be a small thing, says researcher Belinda Campos, but that greeting could set the tone for the rest of the evening. Instead of a cursory glance from the kids and a ‘did you remember to get the milk’, make an effort to welcome someone home to a place where they matter. The same goes for all members of the family.
De-stressor 3: Make meal times special times
As a family, try to sit down for at least one meal a day and in the week try to aim for at least four suppers together. When children are old enough, allow them to assist in the preparation and allow each family member a meal of choice during the week. “Kids who assisted in food preparation always ate what was served,” noted UCLA researcher Margaret Beck. “And the mood in the house was lighter and happier when the kids spent cooking time in the kitchen.”
De-stressor 4: Laugh together
While there might be a certain amount of guilt involved in plopping in front of the TV, a focused approach has its benefits. Watching sitcoms, sports or quiz shows allows family bonding time. Guessing answers to trivia questions, supporting sports teams and laughing at favourite comedies create shared moments that in turn build memories.
A good alternative is to play cricket or soccer on the lawn on those wonderful summer evenings – and charades or board games on those freezing winter evenings.
De-stressor 5: Aim for balance
Johannesburg-based counsellor Tracey Pinder emphasises that to “avoid depression and burnout” [which may occur with all family members, even young children], space should be made in each day for “enjoyment, achievement and closeness”. Too often, achievement tops the list, while closeness and enjoyment become neglected.
Ways to remedy this include reading bedtime stories to and tucking in smaller children; taking part in activities with older children (such as supporting their sports games, taking them to see a movie, joining a club to enjoy a shared interest); and share time with your partner out of the house – meet for coffee or lunch, have date nights or even just go for a walk together.
Individuals also need a little alone time, whether in quiet mediation or a personal activity, such as taking a run, reading or pursuing a hobby like birdwatching. “And bring gratitude into your lives,” Pinder adds, “for each other, firstly, and for what you have. Living in gratitude creates happy people.”
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