“Dadddd!” Bruce screams. “Betty has eaten all the ice-cream and it’s not even dinner time!”
“Go and tell your mother. The game’s on,” grunts Dad.
Watching the footy, or any sport for that matter, was dad’s time-out. It was his escape, his “me time” away from the nagging home life he felt constantly haunted him.
“Mummmm! Bruce hit me!” yells Betty as she runs into the kitchen crying. Her brother stomping close behind her.
“That’s it, haven’t I told you before not to hit your sister? Go to your room!” instructs mum, her eyes filled with fire and steam seemingly coming from her ears. Why won’t they listen, and why won’t their father ever discipline them?
“I should send them off to boarding school,” whispers mum under her breath.
Happiness is one of the biggest misconceptions Figtree’s Dr Justin Coulson, a PhD in Psychology, says people have about families.
“I think there’s a lot of expectations that families are happy and then there’s a lot of anger and grief, and sometimes some guilt that families aren’t always happy,” he said.
The father of six has just released his first major book in Australia, the US and UK, titled “21 Days to a Happier Family.”
While he does not guarantee reading his words will instantly make your family the most joyous on the planet or the most perfect, he does vouch that by making simple changes like suggested, happiness will become a much more prevalent emotion.
“When you walk around any public place or even when you walk into people's homes it’s rare to see families smiling and happy,” he said.
He attested to the difficulties of parenthood admitting life with six daughters aged from two to 16 had it’s challenges, while work stress and a busy lifestyle were also culprits to sometimes shove happiness in the corner.
However Dr Coulson felt the way a parent behaved and approached testing situations could actually build better outcomes and wanted to share his insights to make the world a better place.
“Research since the 1970s has been telling us children and happiness don’t particularly mix well,” he said. “Parents are consistently looking distressed or distracted when they’re dealing with their children, even if their children aren’t being difficult.”
Aside from parents being surprised to discover happiness was not a constant in life and instead fluctuates, he said there were plenty of other tidbits parents may be shocked to learn.
Many people in today feel they have a right to shut out the world for solitary fun, to indulge in television sports or a glass of wine, believing this will lift their well-being, their overall happiness and parental sanity.
Wrong. While ‘me time’ can ease the pressures of a stressful job or the constant nagging of Betty and Bruce, it can also be an excuse for selfishness “leaving spouse and children questioning their value”.
Instead the parenting expert suggest focusing on ‘we time’ and gives ideas on how to enjoy spending time with the family once again, rather than it feeling like a chore.
“It’s kind of like you get out of family what you put into it,” he said.
Disciplining a child was another area parents were confused about, so he outlines the difference between discipline and punishment and why yelling should be avoided.
“If we get discipline right we don’t need to punish our children anymore and that makes families happier,” he said.
Coulson believed many had the expectation their children should do what they say, simply because of the parent/child relationship, but experience showed this wasn’t always the case.
He said children had minds of their own and prized their autonomy, so yelling loud and clear at them to do something was more often than not ineffective.
“We have to work really hard to build trusting relationships with our children so we can influence them not just when [they’re a small child] but especially when 12 or 14 or 16,” he said.
“You’re actually laying the groundwork for your 16 year old when dealing with a two or four-year-old.”
Dealing with families on a constant basis Dr Coulson admitted to regularly being questioned by parents on his advice, especially the notion “if I don’t yell, they don’t listen”.
The easiest way to test this theory he said, was to walk into a child’s room and offer them $20 - by whispering.
“Most parents are honest and will say they have to yell a lot, they have to get in their face, they have to threaten them and be pretty hard on the kids to get their response … but they can hear just fine,” he said.
“The problem isn’t so much the volume at which we ask, it’s the way in which we ask, the timing, when and why, and what kind of request we make.”
Another strategy Dr Coulson suggested would l increase happiness and well-being was mindfulness and to be present in the current moment.
Like many other self-help authors before him, Dr Coulson agreed mindfulness could have significant benefits to one’s life.
He gave the example of mum listening to Betty and Bruce tell her about their day at school, but 45 seconds in she realised she didn’t know what they said because she got bored along the way and zoned out.
“Research shows that when genuinely mindful, engaged and involved in the moment, we’re a lot happier and so are our children. When we let our minds wander that actually decreases our happiness and well being and it harms our relationships,” he said.
Whether it takes you 21 hours or 21 weeks to read the book, Dr Coulson said it will take time to change old habits. But stick with it, and above all communication is key.