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Good families don’t happen by accident. Victor Parachin checks out ways to keep your children close.

A young woman named Cynthia recalls a high point in her life. It took place when she was 12 years old. Her father promised to take her with him on a business trip to San Francisco. For months, the two talked about the trip. “After his meetings, we planned to take a taxi to Chinatown and have our favorite food, see a movie, ride the cable car, and have a hot-fudge sundae. I was bursting with anticipation,” she recalled. When the day for their excursion finally arrived, Cynthia waited eagerly for her father to finish work. At 6:30 he arrived, but with an influential business client who offered to take the father and daughter out for dinner. “My disappointment was bigger than life,” she says.

In a never-to-be-forgotten moment, her father simply said to his client: “I’d love to see you, but this is a special time with my girl. We’ve got it planned to the minute.” Together, father and daughter did everything according to their plans. “That was just about the happiest time of my life. I don’t think any young girl ever loved her father as much as I loved mine that night,” she says.

That story is recounted by Cynthia’s father, Stephen R. Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. Clearly Covey knows that one ingredient common to close families is they keep promises. Here are six more tips for getting close to your children:

1. Make family your top priority.

“Close families get that way because they have chosen to make family life their number-one priority. If you decide your kids come before your sales quota or golf game, you will find that all the other pieces of parenting fall into place. When you put your kids first, you’re getting the most value for every hour on earth. What’s more, you have made the rightest decision of your life,” concludes writer Benjamin Stein.

2. Spend time with your kids.

There’s no substitute for spending time with your children. Just as friendships need time to nurture and bond, the same is true for family relationships. “Children cherish special time alone with a parent,” says Nancy Samalin, director of Parent Guidance Workshops. “These memories are happy ones because they recall times when a parent was totally in the moment and solely focused on being with the child, one on one.”

Samalin stresses parents carving out time for children. She cites these examples: “A mother in my workshop makes it a point to take a 20-minute walk with her seven-year-old daughter every evening after dinner, weather permitting. Another parent has a ten-minute evening ritual that begins with her saying to her five year-old, ‘Tell me four things that were funny today.’ An artist I know spends a half-hour every night drawing with his son. They choose their favorites to put up on the door.”

3. Never neglect these three important words.

Close families know the healing power of forgiveness. They often say these three words: Please forgive me and I forgive you! They know that forgiveness has the power to warm the heart while cooling the sting.

Within a family, forgiveness serves as a cleansing agent. It purges the family of anger, bitterness, hostility, animosity, grudge bearing, and lingering resentment. Thus it is vital that parents set the family tone by extending and asking for forgiveness. Close families heed the apostle Paul’s advice: “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you” (Colossians 3:13, NLT).

In Teaching Your Children Values, authors Linda and Richard Eyre state, “Set the example. Show that justice and mercy are your values and that you, too, are trying to learn to repent and forgive. When you make a mistake, lose your temper, fail to meet one of your responsibilities that involve a child, and so forth, make an obvious point of apologizing to the child and asking his forgiveness.”

4. Be available.

No matter how busy you are with your job and other responsibilities, let your children know you are always available to them. Close families operate on the understanding that members can call on each other or interrupt schedules when necessary.

John Obedzinski, a behavioral pediatrician, tells of being summoned from a university conference by a call from his daughter, then about four. “We’d just moved to a home in the country with a stream on the property,” he explains. “Alarmed, I hurried to the phone. ‘The salmon are running!’ Mariska told me. She wanted someone to share her excitement. Such special moments simply can’t be scheduled,” says Obedzinski.

5. Teach children to love and feel loved.

Loving smiles, loving words, loving actions, loving thoughts, loving gestures within a family create an emotionally healthy home where all the members express and experience closeness because of that love.

“Nothing is as important to a child’s feelings of self-worth as the knowledge that he is unequivocally loved by the people who are important in his life,” says James Harris, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.

“Many mistakes that we might make as parents can be overcome if our children have this knowledge. Love to a child is like sunshine to a flower, like water to a thirsty plant, like honey to a bee. Your children need to know beyond any doubt that they are lovable, and that you love them.”

6. Use words wisely.

“Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing,” declares Proverbs 12:18 (NLT). Try always to speak in ways that affirm and assure, not attack your children. How we speak to each other within families will either pull people together or push them apart.

Says Dr. Robert Schuller, “Words aren’t just letters strung together. A word can be a balm or a bomb. A positive word makes you feel good. A negative word leaves you feeling depressed and defeated. Words release energy. A single word can turn you on, or it can turn you off. A negative word can defuse your enthusiasm for a project. A positive word releases positive energy and becomes a creative force.”

When you speak, choose your words wisely because they have lingering power. Consider this partial list of the “Worst Things an Adult Ever Said to a Child,” phrases compiled from an informal survey of adults, in The Parent’s Little Book of Lists, by Jane Bluestein: “You’ll never amount to anything.” “I wish I’d never had you.” “Your mother and I wouldn’t be getting divorced if it weren’t for you.” “I love you, but . . .”

Thankfully, adults also remembered the best things adults said to them. The “bests” include: “You can do anything you choose to do.” “You’re very smart.” “I’m so glad we’ve got you.” “Congratulations! You deserve this!”

Ultimately, by working to cultivate closeness within your family, you effectively create a peaceful, harmonious home life where members experience love and support as well as find refuge from the storms of life. Close families know the truth and wisdom of these words from German philosopher Goethe: “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.”

Get Closer to Your Kids

by Victor Parachin
From the January 2007 Signs