PHOENIX -- Ever see a happy family and wonder how they manage to stay so happy?
Author Bruce Feiler visited Good Morning Arizona this week with some tips on creating and maintaining a happy and harmonious family.
His book, "The Secrets of Happy Families," includes ideas like re-thinking the family dinner. "Family dinner is great," Feiler affirms. "But for many of us, it just doesn't work in our schedules."
He says research shows that there's only about ten minutes of actual conversation in any given meal. He advises taking that ten minutes of quality talk and moving it to another time of the day, and still have the benefit.
"You can have the family breakfast," he says. "You can meet for a bedtime snack at 8:30. Even one meal on the weekend can help the bonding. The point is, the bonding is more important than the eating."
He also says what you talk about is far more important than what you eat. He suggests ideas like teaching your child one new word at each meal, talking about family stories, and playing word games
And Feiler is also a big advocate of weekly family meetings. Ask everyone: What worked well in our family this week? What went wrong in our family this week? And what will we work on in this coming week?
Feiler didn't talk to many experts and therapists when researching this book. Instead, he talked to real families and regular folks to get input and ideas.
He also suggests that kids should be able to create their own punishments if they misbehave. "They're more strict that the parents are."
"We have our jobs, we work on those. We have our hobbies, our bodies, we don't really work on our families," says Feiler. "What I have found is, you can take small steps, accumulate small wins. make your family happier, and make everybody in your family happier."
Feiler also advocates giving kids greater responsibility to prepare them for later in life. "You can't just get them to 16 and say go off and make your decisions if they haven't had practice," says Feiler. "You want them to practice being the adults, with parental supervision."
Even something as small as rearranging your living room can make a difference. "Bring your chairs closer," he advises. "And when you're having difficult conversations, sit on a cushioned surface. If you sit on a hard surface, at a hard table, you'll be more rigid. Sit alongside your partner or your kids on a cushioned surface, and you'll show, we're on your side. You still can be strict, but we're on your side."
One problem that many families face is that the parents are simply overwhelmed and exhausted. Feiler's tip to beat that? Stop hovering!
"If you give children more responsibility, they will assume more responsibility," he says. "The message here is that we're part of a system. If one person is not cooperating, the whole system will break down. So you actually bring your children into the process."
Also, he advises that parents make sure your children know what values are most important to you. Ask your kids :"When you leave, what do you miss? When other people come over, what are you most proud of?" Every family should also have a family mission statement.
"The Secrets of Happy Families" is designed to be a funny and thought-provoking playbook for contemporary families, and contains more than 200 useful strategies. The book is available online and in bookstores everywhere.
Feiler and his wife Linda have identical twin daughters. He writes "This Life" column about contemporary families for the Sunday New York Times, and is the author of five consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including Walking he Bible, and Council of Dads.