Here we are at the starting line of a new school year, and yet, I can’t help but mentally skip ahead to the finish line.
My kids will be starting first, fifth, and eighth (gasp!) grades soon. Clearly, I’ve been at this a while. I know how quickly we reach the next calendar page, like so many mile markers in a long race. I know how much they will each grow, in knowledge, independence, and in shoe size.
And I know that if each member of our family hopes to reach the end of the school year with a sense of success and accomplishment, we have to start out with a strong sense that we are a team.
If we approach family life as a team, we stand a better chance of making sure everyone reaches their full potential and that everyone will have their needs met with love and encouragement.
In my house, right now, I’m hearing a lot of "us versus them" bickering.
My oldest is asking to sign up for every extracurricular activity available, simultaneously. My middle child has declared she’s never leaving the house again, not for the rest of the summer and likely not for the sake of school, sport, or sibling either. My youngest, well, thankfully he’s the easy going one. Meanwhile, us parents are jostling for calendar space as we make a few plans of our own.
The problem is a matter of perspective. This us-versus-them, what-can-you-do-for-me thinking is an easy trap to fall into, but it’s not necessary. With practice and a little intention, we can help our kids see that we each have a role to play in Team Family.
And thinking in terms of Team Family strengthens empathy muscles!
Sure, teamwork makes everyone's life run more smoothly, but it has longer-lasting benefits too. Understanding your family as a team teaches the everyday habits of a compassionate life, like responsibility, compromise, and the ability to notice the needs of others. Being part of a team is all about recognizing when a teammate needs an extra hand or a break or to be called out on their poor sportsmanship. And if you can do that with your family, you’ll discover your classroom, your neighborhood, and your community are all full of teams in need of good players.
The pause just before the school year begins is the perfect time to adopt or reinforce the idea of Team Family. Like a team, your family shares overarching goals, even as individual teammates work on their own priorities. Here are some tools you can use to help your family adopt the “team” mindset.
Create a Family Mission Statement. What does your family stand for? This simple, artistic project can serve as a reminder all year long.
Share personal goals. Ask each family member to set a few individual goals (parents too, of course). Then share with each other why they are important. Understanding the hopes and motivations of one another will help you support each other throughout the year.
Encourage good sportsmanship. Brush up on a few of our favorite resources and remind your whole family to apologize and forgive one another when necessary, listen well to one another, and learn to manage strong emotions.
Like any good sport, successful family life requires a certain amount of practice and repetition. Adopting a few good habits is akin to mastering the basics, and the strategies below will help you get started.
Huddle! Hold regular family meetings. Research continues to place family meetings at the very center of a well-communicating family. Our printable meeting agenda will help your whole family live your priorities, with space to set goals, assign chores, and brainstorm acts of kindness and service.
Don't skip the chores! Surprising research says that doing chores, beginning at age 3 or 4, is actually a proven predictor of adult success. It teaches responsibility, competence, perseverance, the value of hard work -- and the idea that in a family we help one another out. Revisit our popular newsletter on The Surprising Power of Chores for more tips.
Acknowledge and encourage. Take time to recognize the contributions and skills of each family member. It's easy for kids – especially young ones – to assume their efforts in Team Family aren’t important. The more you acknowledge the impact of their efforts, the more they'll want to contribute. And the more likely they will be to recognize (and express gratitude for!) the contributions of others.
Each week throughout the school year may feel like a bit of a race. Mondays start off with a buzzer and there is a lot of ground to cover before the weekend. By working as a team, your family can go the distance together. Here are a few last reminders to keep your team running smoothly after the huddle.
Play together. Even if it's just 15 minutes tucked in between bedtime and homework, don't skip the goofing around time. Banish phones to a dark corner and take a little time to play together.
Reflect often. Emerging research tells us that the more open and continuous our dialogue with kids, the better their skills at compassion and problem-solving. Download our 29 Big-Hearted Questions for More Meaningful Family Conversations and post it somewhere handy for those busy weeks.
Share the spotlight. Remember that each family member has unique needs, and at times each will require more attention than others. In family life, fairness doesn't mean everything is equal all the time. It means everyone gets what they need to thrive. Sometimes that means the first slice of cake to celebrate a milestone. Sometimes that means older sister has to give up a free evening to cheer on little brother. Be sure that everyone has a chance to be heard, to have their needs met, to be the star, and to rest on the sidelines.
As your children grow and spend more of their time engaging in the world, this ability to recognize those closest to them as part of a team will serve them well. They'll grow up with the social skills necessary to be a team player in a variety of social settings, able to recognize and celebrate different skills, empathize with others, and take turns in the spotlight. And when the hard work needs to be done, they'll show up, ready to work together.
Here, at the starting line of a new school year, let's take some time to prepare for a strong finish. Let's bring our whole family in for the huddle and gear up for a year full of teamwork.
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