Four Helpful Habits
In a recent Google search on the topic of family systems, I found the following descriptions of family: “[family] offer[s] support and security coupled with unconditional love” (1), “family is a masterpiece of God’s creation” (2), or family is “the first place where children learn how to manage their emotions, interact with others, and communicate” (3). There are many perspectives on why family is important. This blog series will be made up of three parts that highlight different habits from the book The Four Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids (4). Authors Marcus Warner and Chris Coursey suggest, “transforming ‘low-joy’ families into high joy families can change the world” (4, p.15). The definition we will be working with for this blog series is that joy means, “I’m glad to be with you” (5). For readers who want to get the most out of this series, it would be optimal to go into The Center for Family Transformation’s blog archives to read recent posts on joy found here and here. When it comes to the development of children, their brains need to understand that their caregivers and community are glad to be with them. Raising joy-filled kids doesn’t imply that they will not experience other emotions, it means they will learn to experience those emotions and return to a place of joy.
The four habits of raising joy-filled kids are: 1) Attune, 2) Build bounce, 3) Correct with care, and 4) Develop disciplines relationally. This list of four times can most easily be recalled by noting that the first letters of these words begin with the first four letters of the alphabet: “ABCD” (4). In this blog article, I will give a brief introduction on each of these habits. Later blogs will take a deeper look at each habit and what they look like at each life stage (infancy, childhood, and adulthood).
Our first habit is attunement. Attuning is the ability to recognize someone else’s “emotional state” and “meet them there” (4, p.33). When we are able to successfully attune with others, it is likely they will feel “seen, heard, understood, and cared for” (6, p. 35). When we are not able to attune with others, they will typically feel alone which creates “attachment pain, the pain of loss” (5, p.76). Attunement can happen through “our touch, voice tone, and eye contact; we communicate to our children that they are in safe hands, and it is okay to bring their big emotions to us” (4, p.35). We can use four simple questions as a test to assess our ability to attune with our children:
Do we minimize our child’s emotions?
Do we abandon our children in distressing emotions?
Do we shame our children for having ‘big’ intense emotions?
Do we expect our child to make us feel better?” (4, p. 36-37).
Attunement can be difficult when we have not seen it modeled, but we can have hope that we are always able to learn and grow together.
The next habit is called building bounce, which refers to how well people can bounce back from distressing emotions. The idea is that the more air in the ball, the better it is able to bounce. The air is the joy, and the more joy our kids have, the better they are able to return to joy from the other emotions. External regulation, or co-regulation, is used when kids are babies and need the adults’ help to return to a state of calm. As they grow, they are able to co-regulate with your assistance. Eventually the goal is for them to become adults who can self-regulate. A practical example of this would be to practice “joy smiles” with babies (4, p.59). This is where you hold eye contact and smile with the baby, and then when they look away, you let them rest (4). This creates joy for both the baby and the parent.
Correcting with care is the next important habit for raising joy-filled kids. This habit includes bringing correction without toxic shame. We want to keep our child’s growth more important than our image or comfort. It is important to “correct behavioral problems in a way that keeps our relationship with the child bigger than our problems” (4, p.42). Correcting with care can also look like reminding them of who we are as a family. For example, “We are kind people. We do not treat people unkindly; that is not like us” (4, p.43). Our goal is to correct the behavior and confirm their true identity.
The final habit I will discuss in this article is developing disciplines relationally. Marcus Warner and his wife desired to prepare their kids for life as an adventure. They helped their kids learn and understand that “the more skills you have, the more freedom you have, and skills require discipline” (4, p.44). They wanted their children to know that they would need to work for the skills to do the things they wanted in life. This habit is important for helping kids develop “patience and perseverance” and for helping them know that they are not alone when things get hard (4, p.45). More than just passing down a skill, when kids are able to develop disciplines relationally, it gives them a sense of ability to build relational connection that will sustain them throughout their lives.
It’s important to note that the four aforementioned habits are not easy for even the most prepared parents to employ. According to Warner and Coursey, our own immaturity is our biggest obstacle (4). The hope is we can be “honest with ourselves and with our children about the mistakes we make, as well as the holes in our own development” (4, p.46). To take some of the pressure off, we can also get good at making repairs when we do make mistakes (4). To conclude, in the next two weeks, we will take a deeper look into each of these habits and share practical ways to practice them. If you would like to learn more in the meantime, The Four Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids has helpful ways to begin building these habits into your family.
Fuller, L. (2020, July 2). The importance of family. Hanley Foundation. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://hanleyfoundation.org/resources/educational-tools/the-importance-of-family/
Greer, J. (2022, May 5). The purpose of the family. Focus on the Family. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/the-purpose-of-the-family/
Soken-Huberty, E. (2021, March 24). 10 reasons why family is important. The Important Site. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://theimportantsite.com/10-reasons-family-is-important/
Warner, M., & Coursey, C. (2021). 4 Habits of raising joy-filled kids: A simple model for developing your child’s maturity-at every stage. Northfield Publishing.
Coursey, C. M. (2021). The joy switch: How your brain’s secret circuit affects your relationships– and how you can activate it. Northfield Publishing.
Wilder, E. J., Kang, A., Loppnow, J., & Loppnow, S. (2020). Joyful journey: Listening to immanuel. Presence and Practice.