How to Create Healthy Habits That Strengthen Your Family (Part 1)

Building healthy habits can strengthen family bonds and lay a strong foundation for your children’s future. Here are some small steps to get you started.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #575

Good habits don’t just happen—they have to first be introduced to us. Then, it takes self-discipline and lots of practice to cultivate them into our regular routines.

Take, for instance, brushing and flossing. When we were very young, our parents brushed and flossed our teeth for us, gradually teaching us how to do it correctly so we could handle the task ourselves. Eventually, we learned that brushing is something we should practice daily—and you get a big gold star if you actually floss daily!—to promote healthy teeth and gums and prevent bad breath and other dental consequences.

Helping your child cultivate good habits will become a good habit of your own!

Helping your children form good habits can be a challenge. Once you have a goal in mind, focus on it daily. (Of course, your expectations should match your child's age and developmental stage.) Once your child has demonstrated an acceptable level of mastery, you can move on to the next habit. Helping your child cultivate good habits will become a good habit of your own!

Healthy Habit #1: Practice gratitude always!

Gratitude is a tricky concept. When all is right in our world, it’s easy to focus on the good, but the challenge is being able to maintain that focus when things are not going so well.

Most of us know we should express gratitude for major positive events in our lives, like having a roof over our heads, food on the table, and good health. But emotionally resilient families are also able to appreciate life's simplest pleasures, like the big tree in the backyard that your kids can climb, the nearby swimming spot on a hot summer day, or even just having access to a washer and dryer.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., author of Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, believes practicing gratitude is essential and worth the effort, especially when life is challenging.

He says:

It is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.

Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., "How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times"

Most kids won't learn gratitude simply by being told to be grateful. The most important thing you can do is to model the behavior for your child.

When I was growing up, my family played The Magic Circle at dinnertime. We went around the dinner table and shared something good that happened to us during the day. We do something similar in my family today.

The most important thing you can do is to model grateful behavior for your child.

But my favorite way to tap into gratitude is journaling. Dr. Emmons has a surefire tip to take your gratitude journal to the next level. Instead of writing down all the things you’re grateful for, choose one thing a day and write five specific things about it. Check out American life coach Marie Forleo’s Gratitude: The Most Powerful Practice You’re Not Doing on YouTube for a closer look at how to get over “gratitude fatigue” and pump up the volume on your gratitude journal.

Building gratitude takes practice, but when you make time for it regularly, the gratitude habit will enhance your family’s happiness.

Healthy Habit #2: Turn off devices and enjoy family fun time

For a family to stay connected with one another, it's critical to carve out regular blocks of together time. Get your family in the habit of hanging out just for the fun of it, not solely for special occasions like birthdays or vacations.

A personal connection can be difficult to achieve when we’re all attached to our devices nearly 24/7.

Family fun time is super important, but what really makes it meaningful is when everyone is present and tuned in with one another. A personal connection can be difficult to achieve when we’re all attached to our devices nearly 24/7. Here's a solution: Plan regular chunks of family time when you're committed to unplugging.

In my recent episode, Book Recommendations for Busy Moms, I interviewed Zibby Owens, the voice behind the podcast Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books. One of her top book picks to enhance quality family time was 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Tiffany Shlain. Ten years ago, Tiffany was invited to be part of the National Day of Unplugging. The experience was life-changing for her. She said it felt like a modern version of a day of rest. Because it felt so good, her family has practiced it weekly ever since.

If a weekly digital detox seems too much, try a monthly or quarterly timeframe instead. And if you’re looking for creative ways to spend your unplugged family time, Shlain's book has a list of fun things people of every age can do without screens.

Healthy Habit #3: Help habits grow with family encouragement

Sit down together and encourage each family member to decide on a habit they would like to improve. Younger kids can try using the words “please” and “thank you” regularly. Older kids can substitute more physical activity for less screen time. Adults can try to eat more veggies daily and drink water instead of soda. The entire family can find ways to reduce their sugar intake.

Next, give each person some flower seeds or a bulb and have them plant the seed in the ground or a container. Give yourselves as long as the seed takes to start growing to work on these habits. When everyone sees growth in their seedlings, they can report to the family whether or not their habit has bloomed in them.

During this time, family members can encourage the growth of one another’s habits by making positive comments. Your son might tell his sister that he admires her commitment to walking for a half-hour every day before breakfast. Someone could write on the family chalkboard how awesome it is that Dad's no longer smoking. Sharing something as simple as a hug for your six-year-old to let him know you've noticed him trying to take better care of his room can be enough to keep him motivated.

Healthy Habit #4: Maintain an Organized Home

An important skill that will help your children as they grow, as well as when they leave the nest entirely, is learning to stay organized. As the mom of eight kids, I can’t stress enough that an organized home equals a peaceful home. If your household isn’t organized to begin with, then use this as a learning opportunity for the entire family as you work together to get all the rooms in your home clutter-free.

A cluttered environment is living in CHAOS—Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. Isn’t that the truth?

Make a list of some of your clutter habits. Once you identify your bad habits, pick one to change and replace it with a healthier habit. Instead of letting your mail pile up on your kitchen counter for a week (or two), follow the Domestic CEO’s easy tips to handle the mail every single day. Or, instead of letting your child’s clean laundry sit on her bureau or the closet floor, show her how to put it away correctly so she’ll get into the habit of respecting her things and her environment. (She'll also learn the joy of not having to shuffle through messy piles to find a clean pair of socks.) Start small by choosing just one habit, and pick one that you feel confident about changing.

One of my favorite clutter-clearing experts, FlyLady, refers to a cluttered environment as living in CHAOS—Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. Isn’t that the truth? I remind myself of this catchy acronym every time I start to see clutter rearing its ugly head in our space.

Once your home starts getting (and staying) organized, you will all have more time to relax and enjoy quality family time.

RELATED: 10 Ways to Be a More Organized Parent

Healthy Habit #5: Healthy eating and family mealtime

One of the best gifts you can give to your family members is teaching them to take good care of their bodies. By choosing healthier food options and exercising regularly ourselves, we teach our kids that we value a healthy lifestyle.

If your family never eats fruits and veggies, start a habit of introducing one or two new vegetables and fruits throughout the week. Replace fried foods with baked or broiled entrees, instead. (I have fallen in love with my new air fryer!) Get into the habit of walking or riding bikes several times a week instead of watching TV. If you model healthier habits, your children will have more reason to follow suit.

When a family sits down together, it helps them handle the stresses of daily life. It’s a time for everyone to connect.

Equally important is sharing family meals together. I’ve long been a fan of sharing as many family meals together as possible. Even if you can’t break bread together five nights a week, committing to enjoying regular family meals (it can be breakfast or even dessert) is a healthy family habit.

When a family sits down together, it helps them handle the stresses of daily life. It’s a time for everyone to connect. You needn’t fuss over a five-course meal—simple meals like casseroles, lasagna, or a hearty soup with salad give everyone a chance to get centered, be together, and regroup before straying in different directions. (Family mealtime is also a great time to try out the Magic Circle game mentioned in my first tip about practicing gratitude.)

Meal planning can help lessen your stress in the kitchen so you can create delicious, healthy meals and spend more quality time sharing meals together. See my episode Why Meal Planning is Essential to a Happier Family Life.

Check back next week for more tips to help your family embrace healthy habits.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.