A quick tip is to set aside some sacred times -- family meals, school activities, sporting events and after-school pickups. I once heard that the first two minutes of an encounter sets the tone for the entire quality of the conversation and interaction that follows. This holds true with spouses as well as children. Sometimes my husband, John, and I rewind and call a "do-over" if one of us is preoccupied upon greeting the other.
So, how did we get this way? It didn't happen overnight, and it's not going away. Author Bruce Feiler has spent the past few years on this quest. In his book, "The Secrets of Happy Families: How to Improve Your Morning, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smart, Go Out and Play and Much More," Feiler cites a surprising theme.
The key is to develop a strong family narrative. What? Tell more stories? Although this doesn't sound very groundbreaking, it turns out that children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when faced with challenges. Maybe it has to do with feeling more grounded (and not in the punitive sense).
Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, has studied the dissipation of the family. He and his colleague, Dr. Robyn Fivush, developed an instrument called the "Do You Know" scale. Here are some sample scale questions:
Duke and Fivush asked families 20 scale questions and recorded their conversations. Then they compared the children's results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken and reached an overwhelming conclusion: The more children know about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-confidence.
The "Do You Know" scale turned out to be the study's best single predictor of children's emotional health and happiness. "We were blown away," Duke said.
On a synchronistic note, my fellow columnist Bill Ellis reminded me that today, Sept. 8, is National Grandparents Day. Marian McQuade, of Oak Hill, is its founder. And Congress passed the act "to honor grandparents ... and to help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer."
The "power of story" is well known to speakers, writers and teachers as well. Maybe it's time to bring the concept to the family dinner table. Or embark on a joint genealogy project through Ancestry.com.
Do you know?
Linda Arnold, M.A., MBA, is a certified wellness instructor, counselor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications firm with offices in West Virginia, Montana and Washington, D.C. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301 or emailed to livelifefu...@arnoldagency.com.