21 Small, But Powerful Ways to Build A Happy Family

by Kelly on April 28, 2009 · 30 comments

in Inspiration. Happiness. Self Improvement,Parenting. Relationships


I’m organizing a 5th birthday party for Bunny right now. It’s going to have 40 people or so and a jumping castle and we’re taking over my father’s property, which has the room to host large gatherings. I had my wedding reception there and that was loads of fun, so hopefully this party will be just as successful.

We haven’t thrown a party this big since his 1st birthday, so it’s a big deal. Add to that I am not the most domesticated woman in the world and you could say I am more than a little stressed.

At times like this, it’s so easy to fixate on the successful completion of one goal that you forget lasting happiness doesn’t come from one special event.

The real impact you make on your child’s or partner’s lives comes from how you treat them and what you share with them every day.

Do I hope Bunny remembers his 5th birthday party? of course. But in years to come, it’s doubtful he’ll remember this party as much as the daily legacy of love and acceptance that we strive to provide and and the multitude of little moments that make up his life.

With that in mind, I thought I’d start a list of 21 Small, But Powerful Ways To Build A Happy Family:

1.  Read together

Bunny and I read at least two books a day. We like Dr. Seuss books, especially The Lorax and Scary Pants. He also tortures me with Thomas the Tank Engine paperbacks – we have a whole library of them and I can’t wait for the day I can donate them to the nearest charity.

2. Cook together

Bunny likes to bake muffins and cakes, but doesn’t eat either. Strange child – can’t believe he’s mine!

3.  Play music at home and dance around the lounge room

The idea is to make as much of a fool of yourself as possible. If you’re just swaying your hips a little and waving stiff arms while your kids go wild with break dance moves, you’re not getting into it enough. You need to upstage them; show them how it’s really done with some serious over acting. Think Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, Madonna or some head banging, skipping air guitar a la AC/DC.

4.  Encourage your child’s passions and creativity

This is a video that MusicMan and Bunny made together recently. It shows you just how obsessed my son is with Thomas and how bizarre my husband’s sense of humor is. I take no responsibility for either :)

5.  Watch films and cartoons together

Our family favorites are Madagascar, Ice Age 2 and The Lion King. Share old films from your childhood that are appropriate to your child’s age level. I introduced Bunny to my love of Scooby Doo, and MusicMan showed him the original Superman recently – Bunny thought it was great.

6. Play board games and sports as a family

We enjoy Trouble in our house, and the whole family likes to lay into the boxing bag or kick a ball around our local reserve.

9.  Go to museums and art galleries

Expose your children to culture, history and art in a practical setting and they will gain an appreciation for creativity, ideas and learning that will serve them throughout life. Talk about the pieces you find interesting child and ask your child what they like and why. Make sure you listen.

10.   Make sure your family receive your best, not the left-overs

Juggling work and family life can be demanding and drive one to the point of exhaustion or near insanity. Don’t let the pebbles get in the way of the big rocks of your life. Prioritize what’s important and learn to leave work behind. MusicMan and I do struggle with this, but it’s something we are aware of and a daily discipline. What I do know is my  family deserve my best qualities, and I think the following quote sums this up perfectly.

“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘good morning’ at total strangers.”

– Maya Angelou, Poet, Writer and Performer

11.  Make birthday cards and craft projects together

Bunny is the official card manufacturer in our house, and I’m sure the extended family wouldn’t have it any other way. Lately he’s starting to differentiate between “girls” cards and “boys” cards. Girls get pink coloring and sparkly bits and boys get car drawings, monsters and dinosaurs.

12.  Have coloring, drawing and painting time and resist the urge to direct your child or tell them how to “do it better”

All children are naturally creative and experimental. When we critique their artistic efforts or involve ourselves in their work to make it fit some standard in our own mind, then we invalidate their natural expression, sending the message it’s wrong or needs fixing. Actions like this are what smothers children’s creativity and batters their confidence, turning them into stiff adults, sure they “don’t have a creative bone” in their body.

13.  Set up a focus on heritage and family and connections

Look at family pictures and talk about people who are important to your child’s life, especially those who they might not see a lot of. Show them photos from your childhood and talk about what you liked to do and share memories from your family.

If you have a particular religious affiliation, strong value system (I had a creative, free thinking upbringing) or cultural background, ensure your children learn about where they come from and what you believe in. You can’t enforce these things in my opinion, but it always helps to understand our parents and heritage, even if we later choose to ignore it.

14.  Embrace your inner child – blow bubbles, fly a kite, have sword fights, make sand castles and scour the beach for shells and signs of ocean life

Children are the best excuse you’ll ever have to stay young at heart. Let them lead you into their world and you might just tap into a well of joy that will keep you smiling, improve your energy and enthusiasm for life and help you live longer too. Remember, to show respect for others while playing to set a good example for your children. Nature and other living creatures are included in this – respect for all living things.


15.  Turn the music up in the car and sing loudly and off-key

Don’t let your child be the one to always pick the music. Share your favorites with them too. Bunny is currently loving this old dance favorite of mine, though I wouldn’t show him the music clip as it’s too adult for a pre-school child.

16. Be honest and forgiving

Be honest when your children ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you’ll get back to them. Keep your answers appropriate for their age and level of understanding, but don’t lie. It destroys the trust between you.

If you believe it is better they not know the details about something (eg. divorce) then explain what you can and tell them some matters are private and/or for adults only.

Don’t act as if mistakes are the end of the world or bad behaviour makes you a bad person. Your children will disappoint you and upset you some time. Accept it. Forgive them.

And forgive yourself for your own weaknesses and so-called failings, you’ll be doing them a favour there too. By keeping open channels of communication and building a forgiving atmosphere in the home, you’ll build trust and your children are more likely to come to you later when they’re in trouble and really need you.

17. Be a parent, not a friend

This means stick to your values and don’t let yourself be swayed by what other kids’ parents are doing. Bunny doesn’t have computer games yet because I think there is plenty of time for that. I want him to enjoy his own creativity before he starts investing himself in someone else’s.

Don’t do what is popular now if it is not in your child’s best interests long term. We need to be their guide and sometimes this means making hard decisions that will incur the dreaded “I hate you” screams. I have already experienced this and it hurts, but that’s parenting and I am sure I have a lot more to look forward to.

Be strong for your children so they know they can lean on you. While you may sometimes feel sad or scared (it’s okay for them to know this), make sure that no matter what, you are the one in charge, the one who will fix things. Do not let your children take on adult worries they cannot process or repair. It heightens anxiety and can be emotionally crippling. When you say “No”, stick to your guns or you’ll appear weak and leave yourself open for a lifetime of whining.

18.  Say “I love you” at least once a day, preferably a lot more

Children need affection, so lay on the cuddles and kisses. Even once they think they’ve outgrown this (Bunny is already rationing MusicMan and recently told me he was a big boy who didn’t “need” a good night kiss), respect their boundaries, but tell them they are never too big for cuddles. After all, they will want something to rebel against, so why not have it be mom and her kisses?

19.  Visit the library and browse book shops

Books offer a path to another world. They can inspire, educate and stimulate a child’ imagination, and by encouraging an appreciation of books and reading you will not only expose your child to new ways of thinking, but you’ll help them at school as well.

Exposing your child to a variety of books – fiction and non-fiction – will help them to be a more empathetic, questioning, informed and involved citizen of their country and this world.

20.  Teach your kids how to play hopscotch

It’s simple, free and fun for all. And it’s actually kind of strenuous for moms and dads who don’t work out enough. :)

21.  Have family rituals

Rituals are important for giving our children a sense of connection, belonging and security. They don’t have to be grand activities or take a lot of time – it’s the routine that is the most meaningful.

Bunny spends one night a week with his grandma and pop and they have their own routines there that he looks forward to. At home, MusicMan and Bunny build extensive train tracks together, while I am the one he usually does drawing and jigsaw puzzles with. As a family, we also read two books before bed each night and there’s a certain chant I say as I kiss Bunny into bed.

How do you create your family? Do you disagree with any of my ideas or have any tips you’d like to share with us?


Flickr Photo1 by Kenny MØller and Photo2 by Zeetz Jones

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Evelyn Lim 04.28.09 at 6:03 pm

I’ve certainly covered almost all of your suggestions….including organizing big birthday parties…LOL!! For kiddie parties, I’ve engaged magicians, rented indoor playgrounds and also had smaller tea parties at my home (complete with table setting) and decorate-a-cookie for activity. Art, music and plays are also how my kids spent their time since young .

It’s great that you’re so hands-on with Bunny. We definitely share a common interest in helping our child grow and have fun at the same time!! All the best to the party!

Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..Akashic Records On Chakra Imbalances

2 Kelly 04.28.09 at 10:40 pm

Kids parties can get out of control, can’t they? I’m not holding back this year, but that means next year will be a much smaller celebration. I do try to be hands on with Bunny, but you know what it’s like as a mom – sometimes you feel like most of the time spent with kids is herding them off to school etc, feeding them, teaching them how to behave. So little of it is doing the fun stuff. I am always trying to work on that balance.

And we are sure to have a great time on the weekend; thanks :)


3 Betsy Wuebker 04.29.09 at 12:00 am

These are the most magical years – and they are gone before you know it. That’s a cliche for a reason. I hope all parents can take heed as the memories made like the ones you suggest are to treasure!


4 Vered - MomGrind 04.29.09 at 1:25 am

Being forgiving is so important. It also teaches me to be more forgiving towards myself.

Dancing together in the living room is the best thing ever. :)

Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..Fear of Rape

5 Jenny Mannion 04.29.09 at 1:41 am

Hey Kel,

What a GREAT list! It is SO important to take conscious time to spend with our children – we do almost all of these as well! Christina recently turned 6 and asked to make every person a homemade “thank you”. :-) I think she’s done about 6 out of the 20 but I know it will mean a lot more to the people receiving it. We highly encourage creativity, imagination and FUN however we can make it happen! The silly dance parties are one of my faves — and yes the GRANDER the MOVES the better! :-)

I know the party will be awesome Kel and more importantly you are raising Bunny with lots of love, encouragement and guidance and you can’t ask for anything more than that!


Jenny Mannion’s last blog post..Lessons Learned When the Healer Gets Sick

6 Patricia 04.29.09 at 1:57 am

Great list! My kids are grown ups now, but I certainly remember feeling like you during those days.I consider my husband and I are the richest couple in the world because of the family we could build.I wish you all the best, you are in the right path.Love from Argentina

Patricia’s last blog post..El Poder de los Abrazos

7 Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach 04.29.09 at 2:08 am

What a wonderful list! I always make certain to spend time chatting or playing or reading with my kids….the time will come soon enough when they want to hang out with their own friends instead of me.

Thanks for sharing, Barbara

Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach’s last blog post..3 Horrifying Ways You Can Completely TRASH Your Twitter Reputation

8 Sherri (Serene Journey) 04.29.09 at 2:08 am

Hi Kelly,
Lovely list so many great ideas. Having impromptu dance parties is my absolute favorite (Don’t call me baby is a great song!) We have a rule about eating dinner together as a family every evening. Our boys are still really young so we’re working on establishing as many good family habits as we can now so our boys will just know them as normal.

Thanks for a bunch of great ideas! I’m a fan of HUGE birthday parties as well :)

Sherri (Serene Journey)’s last blog post..Life Sucks And Then You Choose

9 Donna 04.29.09 at 2:11 am

I am just beginning a life with my fiance and his two children. I have no children of my own and much to my surprise, we already do all of the above! I guess I had a more spectacular upbringing than originally thought!

10 Chris 04.29.09 at 3:52 am

Sometimes parents make the mistake of being a friend rather than a parent. Great advice! I guess the most important thing about family is spending time together as you succinctly put it.

Kel, as soon as I’m finished with my novel, I will send it to you. I really wanted to blog and work on my novel but I just couldn’t muster enough creativity to do so.

Chris’s last blog post..His Moment

11 Lisa (mommymystic) 04.29.09 at 1:23 pm

This is a great list. Dancing is a big one on our list also, and laughter. I try and ask myself towards the end of each day if we’ve laughed enough, and on rough days, just do something silly – anything really at this age, since my kids are young. It can shift things around so quickly. We also have one day a week, usually Sunday, that is 100% family day, and that means no computer or even Blackberry time (for my husband) that day. We don’t always make that, but we try. Nature and hiking is big in our family too.
I love the Maya Angelou quote in #10 – definitely easier to let it go the other way sometimes, and let all our stress out on the ones closet to us. I also liked what you said about just being honest, not expecting perfection from ourselves. I think it’s Ok to just say, “I’m sorry I snapped at you, I am feeling grouchy today because of xxx”, instead of beating ourselves up inwardly for the slip, or pretending nothing happened and we are always right.
Thanks for a great post going into mother’s day week, and have a great BD party!

Lisa (mommymystic)’s last blog post..2nd Chakra Series – Motherhood and Creating

12 Kelly 04.29.09 at 3:38 pm

Can’t reply to you all individually right now as I’ve come down sick and must rest up so I can finish preparations for party on Saturday. But wanted to say thanks for sharing glimpses of your own family life. be back soon to write more.


13 Dot 04.29.09 at 11:48 pm

Stumbled! I really loved these. Although I didn’t end up having children in this lifetime, I learned a lot about what was postiive in the process of undoing the negative from my own childhood. I especially like “Be honest and forgiving” and “Make sure your family receives your best, not the leftovers.” Great post.

Dot’s last blog post..Feelings About Spring

14 Nic 04.30.09 at 2:28 am

Hello everyone,

I saw the article about birthdays and since it is my best friends 21st coming up I wanted to add a quick comment. Birthdays are great! For my close friends I always organise a little gathering for drinkies in the evening, or a nice meal out! I try and go that little mile for my friends! As part of their day of surprises, I tend to send my friends a little electronic Happy Birthday greeting in my lunch break! I have done my research and tried loads of different sites, and have finally found the perfect Free Birthday e-Card site. This particular site has an awesome application where you can upload a photograph of yourself and incorporate it into your card. This is such a clever idea, and adds that personal touch, and as I already mentioned this particular site is totally free. I think e-Cards are definitely worth a try, they are not for everyone, but I am becoming a fan! Just wanted to share my findings with you all. Have a good rest of your afternoon, Nicole.

15 BC Doan 04.30.09 at 3:34 am

Thumb up, Kelly! These are all essential ways to have happy feelings with your child(ren)..

BC Doan’s last blog post..Free Blog Hosting Service

16 Jeff@MySuperChargedLife 04.30.09 at 4:28 am

I think we all fall into the trap of only offering our families the leftovers after work, managing a home, friends, blogging, social media, etc. It is very important that we get our priorities straight. These are great tips to get us on the right track!

Jeff@MySuperChargedLife’s last blog post..50 Simple And Practical Ways To Make A Positive Difference

17 Madison 04.30.09 at 6:23 am

That was such a fantastic list.
Being a parent is no walk in the park at times, sometimes we don’t give the best of ourselves to the ones we should and this list serves as a constant reminder of how to do it always.
Thank you!

Madison’s last blog post..Alcohol Awareness Month – April 2009

18 Marelisa 04.30.09 at 9:14 am

Hi Kelley: This was a beautiful post which I can appreciate even though I am not a parent. I also liked the Maya Angelou quote: so many people are polite and patient outside the home and then vent their frustations on their loved ones; your loved ones deserve the best you have to offer.

19 Sami 05.01.09 at 4:30 pm

Hi Kel,

Hope you’re feeling better. Loved the list. If only all parents took these ideas on board. The world would be a happier place. I am one of the lucky ones – a fantastic childhood, amazing parents (and siblings) and the recipient of most of your tips!

Sami’s last blog post..How This Site Going Down Taught Me About Gratitude

20 Vikum 05.02.09 at 11:11 am

Hi Kelly,
Seems like a happy family.You spend time together and share your feelings. But today most of families can’t spend much time together since all of the people are busy with their own business. I think that’s why happiness flee from the back door.
First time to your site and its really cool.
Have a great party!

21 Lance 05.03.09 at 8:02 pm

Kelly, this is all such a wonderful article – I love it, and it’s reminding me – am I doing these with my family? The one that especially jumps out at me is #10 – make sure your family receives the best. If we start to take our family for granted, all of a sudden – we might not be giving them our “best” – and they deserve it more than anyone. Thank you for this, it’s a real gift Kelly! And happy birthday to Bunny!!

Lance’s last blog post..Sunday Thought For The Day

22 Robin 05.04.09 at 9:33 pm

Hi Kel – I see you guys are making very good use of your living room!

I love your suggestions – and I hope the party went well – I guess I’ll find out soon.

Chris is writing a novel?

Robin’s last blog post..Life And Teaching Of The Masters Of The Far East

23 Donna 05.05.09 at 9:37 am

Hi Kel,
I hope the party went well. I know that you guys were all extrememly busy preparing for the big event.
I am sure that he had a ball and will remember this for a long time to come.

24 Kelly 05.05.09 at 4:48 pm

Hi everyone

Sorry I’ve been AWOL, but I have been in bed with bronchitis ever since the party on Saturday. It was a huge success, so thank you for all your well wishes. When I can think and work technology again, I’ll post a couple of photos.

Right now I feel like death, so I won’t be speaking to you all individually. To my new commenters –
Jeff@My Super Charged Life (I absolutely LOVE your blog)
Thanks for dropping in to comment and I hope to see you back here again.

To my regular commenters and readers – “I love youse all!”
(that’s a deliberate incorrect use of English and a reference to the Australian boxer, Jeff Fenech)

Chris, send me that novel anytime, babe,


25 aaron 05.30.09 at 8:58 pm

good list. and the light saber picture is great. one question though. um, you named your son Bunny?? All I can think about is that his peers in the public school system are going to make his life a miserable hell. Unrelenting, merciless, and brutal torment. Good luck to him.

26 Kelly 05.31.09 at 10:58 pm

Aaron, I had to respond to this because your comment made me laugh. Of course I didn’t name my son, Bunny. That would be torture!

It’s his nickname at home and the name I use for him on this blog. I don’t use my son’s or my husband’s real names for privacy reasons. You did mke me smile though.


27 telexfree 04.10.13 at 2:22 pm

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