Musings of a Marfan Mom

The Secrets of Happy Families Challenge


I’ve been asked to review the book The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. However, this isn’t going to be a typical review…I was also asked to take one of the (many!) suggestions in the book and incorporate it into our family’s life, and then write about that in the review. The synopsis of the book intrigued me, but I’m generally skeptical of “self-help” books so I wasn’t holding my breath. I’ve started reading it though, and I’m actually excited about it. Feiler doesn’t spit out the general “follow this formula for success” routine, where he quotes work with his clients, or papers by family therapists. Instead, Feller interviewed all sorts of experts in seemingly unrelated fields (Warren Buffet’s banker, the Green Berets, Silicon Valley gamers, to name a few) to see how their successes might be applied to the family unit.

So, here’s what I’d like to ask: do any of you want to read and/or try the experiment along with me? I’ll be publishing my review on March 4th. That gives you a lot of time to read and implement a change. If you do the challenge and want to tell me about it before the 4th, I’ll include it in my review. Otherwise, I’d love if you posted something in the comments that day so we can discuss.

But, at the same time, I know you all are busy. So if you don’t have time to read but are still interested in making a change, I’ve been sent a list of a few of the suggestions in the book. We can all discuss how things worked on the March 4th post.

10 Suggestions:
1) Make a morning checklist.
Make a chart listing all these items, with space for then kids to check them off as they’re completed. Important: Have the children do the checking! Research shows that kids who set their own schedules and make their own decisions develop more independence and responsibility.

2) Create a safe zone.
Convene a weekly family meeting in which kids evaluate what’s going well in your family (including mornings) and what’s not going well. Vote on two items to focus on improving during the upcoming week.

3) Time shift.
Can’t have dinner together every night? Aim for once a week. Aren’t home from work early enough? Gather everyone at 8 pm for dessert or a bedtime snack. Weeknights too busy? Try breakfast or weekends.

4) Teach your kids one new word a day.
The more words children learn when they’re young the better they do in school when they’re older. Don’t dumb down your language; the more you speak like yourself, the more new words they pick up.

5) Teach them about constraints.
Giving your kids an allowance is about teaching them about restraints. And restraints build creativity. Research supports asking kids to divide their money into four piles – save, spend, give away, and share. The last pot is money the family spends together.

6) Stop after 3 minutes.
The most important points in any argument get made in the first three minutes. After that, research shows, people just repeat themselves at higher and higher decibels. Think of a fight like a boxing match: The opening minutes set the tone.

7) Targeted play.
To reduce fights during mealtime, make sure siblings spend at least 20 minutes beforehand engaged in a joint activity that reaffirms their connection

8) It’s never too early to start.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends speaking to kids as young as 18-months about sexuality. Their advice: Don’t giggle, use proper names, be brief.

9) Eat like a Parisian.
If you sit across from someone at a table, you’re more likely to be confrontational. If you sit alongside someone, you’re more likely to be collaborative. For important conversations, sit next to the other person.

10) Forget “20 Questions”
Are you still playing 100-year-old car games, or shoving an ipad in front of your kids? Instead of using Silicon Valley gamers to babysit your kids, why not use them to engage your entire family? Try one of these games from the Internet’s best designers:
– “I’m Thinking of a Time When” – Someone thinks of a family memory, others try to guess.
– “Let’s Tell a Story” – Someone starts a story, then passes on to the next person.
– “Mission Impossible” – Give kids physical challenges that get progressively harder

I hope that you’ll join me in this challenge! Please let me know if you do. Not only is the book available in print, you can get it on the Kindle as well. Happy experimenting!

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