Three Habits of Emotionally Healthy Families

Every wonder how families stay healthy?

With all the focus on healthy eating and preventing childhood obesity, we have the equally important task of promoting the family’s emotional health.

Here are my top three tips for keeping your family ‘emotionally healthy’:

1. Family time together means limiting screen time. How many times do you see families spending time together at the park or a restaurant where they are sitting together but lost in their own individual worlds, staring at their cell phones or other electronic devices? These days, kids can’t even go to a family birthday party without immersing themselves in technology, and though they are physically present, they are mentally in cyberspace. Making a family rule where screen time is shut down during a specific time and for a specified amount of time each week (cell phones are put into “airplane mode,” placed in a designated area away from the family to reduce the temptation to peek at a text message, or just plain turned off), allows us to stop for a moment, emotionally interact, and listen.

As a neurodevelopmental audiologist, I have noticed listening is becoming a lost art. We hear, but are we really listening? They are not one and the same. Connecting to loved ones by looking at their faces and listening to what they have to say sends a message that says “I care about you and am interested in what you think and how you feel.”

2. Emotionally healthy families reach out and touch one another. Remember the old Bell commercial in the 1970s, “Reach out and touch someone?” There is so much more to that message than most of us ever realized! How often do you give your family members a hug, a squeeze on the hand, or a pat on the back? How often do you get these gentle, tactile expressions of love, caring, and compassion? You must admit, it feels pretty good; yet it is something we often take for granted.

Our system of touch stimulates everything from our immune system, to our cardiovascular system, to our respiratory system, and even the emotional center of our brains.

What’s more, a gentle touch can help us feel more connected and bonded to others in our environment.

It can help relieve pain and stress and can help us to feel safe. It reminds you that you are not alone.

Studies by Tiffany Field, Ph.D., at the Touch Institute at University of Miami, found infants in a neonatal intensive care unit gained more weight and were discharged from the hospital earlier when they were massaged. Other studies on older adults show benefits of reduced pain and improved cognitive function for people with Alzheimer’s disease. With massage boutiques opening on practically every corner, it’s clear that touch is really not taboo. Given all the medical advances that have been made in society, isn’t it interesting that a gentle touch from a loved one or family member, something that costs so little, can offer so much? So next time you think about it, “reach out and touch someone” in your family and remind them how much they mean to you.

3. Having a routine helps the whole family. At Brainchild Institute, the focus is not just on the client, it is on the whole family. And our experience has proven the importance of establishing a consistent predictable schedule at home. Consistency promotes a feeling of safety and security. We often hear from parents how well their child is behaving at school while at home, they act like the Tasmanian devil on steroids. Think about it. The school day has a predictable structure with classes, lunch and recess generally at the same time each day. While I am not promoting rigidity, creating a consistent schedule at home with time and space for homework, family dinner and a bedtime routine can reduce stress and improve behavior.

As a parent, there is a lot of pressure on you to control the home environment. But in the end, is there anything more important than the emotional health of your family?

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