Fostering a healthy family begins in the home. There are many things parents can do, whether setting up a new home or rethinking the house they already own, to create an environment where a family can thrive. A healthy family home is ultimately neither costly nor time consuming.
Healthy family practices should be incorporated thoughtfully into everyday life—making rooms conducive to family connectedness, creating spaces where family members can regroup and enjoy solitude, and promoting autonomy among family members.
While we usually write on topics such as the best home warranty, we decided to do something a little different. We sat down with blogger, writer, and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) Kimberley Blaine to ask her how she creates a home where a family can thrive. Blaine, also known as The Go-To Mom, endeavors to help families increase happiness and mindfulness.
As important as family time is, it’s equally, if not more, important for everyone to have a space where they can be alone. “First, it’s really important to have space for each family member, whether it’s in the same room, or in their own bedroom, where it’s their own private haven,” Blaine says. “When we set up our new home, we wanted to have solitude space for every person.”
Blaine lives in a craftsman-style home, which affords plenty of nooks and crannies to create personal spaces. She has a small room with glass doors off her kitchen that started as a library, but it soon turned into a meditation space. “It is our cozy, quiet room,” she says. “There are doors you can see through so my husband and I could go in there and have date night while still watching the children.”
If you’re short on nooks and crannies, you can still create, for instance, a homework spot by placing a small table or desk and a lamp in a quiet corner of your kitchen or a meditation area in a corner of any room with comfortable pillows in peaceful colors.
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Needs will change as your family ages and grows. What was once a dining room may need to be changed into a study room, or a playroom into a bedroom.
Promoting connectedness can be as simple as repurposing rooms or making a space for family activities. “We repurposed our dining room to be a study space where the kids do their homework,” Blaine explains. “You could also take out the dining room table and make a gaming room and put in a couch and a big screen. You have to make efforts to bond and be with your children, even if it means tossing out your nice table. You need a room where everyone gathers or else you miss that closeness.”
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Even in a kitchen, where a lot should be off-limits to little hands, Blaine maintains the importance of granting permission and choice.
When her children were younger, Blaine made her kitchen the ultimate toddler kitchen. “I wanted children to feel comfortable in my home. Any lower drawer or lower bookshelf was acceptable for a baby or toddler to get into. Kid books were on the lower shelf as well as clear containers of Cheerios and crackers,” she said. “The lower half of my refrigerator was called the anytime zone and the whole bottom shelf was filled with veggies, string cheese, and washed fruit in bowls where you don’t have to ask permission.”
There was also a junk food drawer, but those treats had to be earned by eating from the anytime zone first. Encourage responsible food choices by granting permission rather than imposing restriction.
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Order in the home encourages harmony and reduces anxiety. Blaine offers her children creative ways to declutter—from having a yard sale to listing more valuable items online so they are able to make a little money of their own while getting rid of clutter.
“Order is important for me to think clearly, so we try to keep our counters clear and laundry off the floor,” says Blaine. “Everyone’s definition of tidy is a little bit different but that’s okay. It is overwhelming for some children to declutter so it’s fine to help them if they ask.”
According to Blaine, though tidiness will come naturally to some, not every child will naturally know how to declutter or clean, so you may need to help them. When it comes to sorting through clutter in your children’s rooms, work with them to divide items into keep, sell, donate, and throw away. When it comes to cleaning, demonstrate a good standard and patiently show them how to achieve it.
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Everyone—even kids—should also be allowed a say in the home’s décor, especially in their own space. “Family members take pride in having things that match their personality,” Blaine says. “I give the children a lot of control in their environment. I let them pick their bathroom mats and I try to get them owning the simple things in life to incorporate their style.”
Little things like letting them choose their own rug or toothbrush or giving them their own drawer or cabinet space outside of their rooms can make children feel like they’re a part of the home and important—this is a great way to foster independence and autonomy that will serve them well later in life.
“It’s special for them to have their own stuff,” Blaine says. “The children are autonomous in picking out what they need,” she said. “We are all about having them be independent and being a competent person, and it starts in the home.”
As her children age, Blaine lets them update their bedrooms, changing out the paint color and the pictures on the wall or picking new bedding, allowing them to be as creative as they choose to be. One of her sons asked for a gentler carpet color to make him feel more peaceful, another chose a large photo of a parrot for his bedroom wall—and now each feels a sense of ownership over their space.
Connectedness among family members should also be facilitated outside the home. Blaine suggests having a family picnic in the yard (her family frequently enjoys chicken dinners on the front lawn) or including the whole family in decorating for holidays.
And get creative in your yard—big or small. “We created a zen rock garden in front for my son’s birthday since he loves stacking rocks,” she said. “It was a great gift for him.” Make an outdoor space conducive to activities your family enjoys.