My “Happy” Family: A Simple Behavior Plan

HAPPY family

They say kids don’t come with an instruction manual and of course, they are right. But I’ve started to realize that they do come with a search engine. And that is the bond of motherhood that lets you sit down with any mother and discuss, vent, brag and learn from other mothers. A couple months ago, I had a very long talk with a colleague of mine, Kathy. I expressed that while I adore my son I felt like I was always speaking negatively to him.

“Put it down!” “Leave her alone!” “Clean up this mess!” “How many times have told you? No throwing in the house! Why? Why? Why?”

Does this sound familiar? In the few precious hours between coming home and bedtime I felt like I was constantly berating him. But squeezing dinner, baths, cleanup, and bedtime routine into those short hours propelled me in a distracted, spazzy state. Enter Kathy.

Kathy has 3 school-aged children. She told me she had felt similar when her oldest was the same age as The Bear. She read all the books, consulted the “experts,” and searched for a solution. In the end, she found the answers in her own brilliant way.

She made a list of the issues that were draining her family. She realized that she could start to see patterns and categories. For example, leaving toys on the floor or kicking the wall during a tantrum related treating the family ‘s property in a respectful way (property respect). Who gets the remote or the front seat should not take priority over the feelings of family members (people matter most). And of course, don’t lie to Momma cause she’ll always find out (always tell the truth)!

Then Kathy took it to another level. She created an acronym that embodied the principles she planned to use to combat her family’s challenging moments.

We are a HAPPY family.

Hands and feet to yourself.
Always tell the truth.
Property respect.
People matter most.
You can always use kind words.

She made a poster for their home and discussed it with her children and her husband. Kathy and her husband began referring to the poster during conflicts, tantrums and arguments. It became part of their family culture.

I was quite impressed with this idea and decided to give it a try myself. I changed “Always tell the truth” to “Always stop and listen” because that fit our family challenges. The letters in “HAPPY” really lend themselves to creating sentences specific to your family pretty easily. H could be for “Have a positive attitude” or Y could be “You are responsible for your choices.” Whatever is a need in your family can easily be worked into this simple system.

Benefits of the HAPPY family system:

1. In moments of parental frustration you have something to go to. For me, during the witching hour (4-6 p.m.) it has been relieving to say “Uh oh. You threw your snack on the floor. That’s not property respect. Can you please clean it up for our HAPPY family?” Then I point to one of our many posters around the house and The Bear does it (usually). Now, I’m sure you are thinking, “Mandy, you could just say that without the HAPPY family part, right?” Wrong. I mean I’m sure I could some days. But when the pots on the stove are boiling over,  Baybay is standing on the kitchen table and the dog just threw up in the corner I’m usually not my most calm and present self. The HAPPY family centers me and gives me a tangible and quick way to explain to my three year-old what I need him to do and why. This is critical for me right now as he is the Why? Why? Why? and I DON’T WANT TO stage.  It sets an expectation and gives an explanation quickly and consistently.

2. My husband and I are on the same page. It helps us work as a team from the same playbook. We both are using the same phrasing and vocabulary with the kids which helps us be consistent in our expectations.

3. It gives the kids language to express things as well during moments of frustration. “Mom! Baybay took my train and she’s eating it. That’s not property respect. She needs to give it back for Happy Family.”  “Mom! Dad gave me a knuckle sandwich. He needs to keep hands and feet to himself!” Yeah, that last part is awesome and humbling at the same time. Just last week I was tense during a snowy commute  and I had a little meltdown when my son asked me to change the radio. I was told I might try some kind words by The Bear.  While it’s hard to be corrected by a three year-old, I’m glad that he sees the expectations apply to all of us and all of us need help with them.

I’m not great with poster board and markers. But I really love using technology to design things. So I used to make our family posters. I saved them and laminated them with my home laminator. Then I hung them up in strategic places around our house: one in each of the kids’ rooms, the kitchen, and the living room. It has a strong presence in our home.

Kathy told me that in the several years since the birth of the HAPPY family it has remained a part of conflict resolution in their house. It doesn’t solve every problem. But it does provide you a behavior management system that is simple, quick and effective. Try it with your family and let us know what works for your family. We’d love to see photos of what you come up with….maybe I see a contest in our future!


3 thoughts on “My “Happy” Family: A Simple Behavior Plan

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