Five areas to nurture to build a strong foundation for your family



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Charles Sophy is a psychiatrist and internal medicine physician in private practice, and was the former medical director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. He is the author of “Family Values: Reset Trust, Boundaries, and Connection With Your Child.”

As a mental health professional treating children, I know how the pandemic’s heavy burden intensified the problems our youth were already experiencing.

As we move to the holiday season, you and your family can find a way back to each other. Not simply returning to the family or the people you were before the pandemic, but to create an even stronger, more secure foundation that will allow everyone to thrive.

That foundation is a concept I refer to as SWEEP. It’s an acronym representing the five key components that I have seen to be the most important and simple measures for well-being.

Ask yourself: What are the ingredients that are integral to your family’s recipe for a meaningful, fulfilling, balanced and joyful life? There are endless permutations of what each family values and wants to work toward, but the foundation that is necessary to achieve those goals is consistent.

Without solid sleep — both quality and quantity — you cannot be the best version of yourself and children may have behavioral issues.

Are you getting enough sleep? Do you feel rejuvenated when you wake up? Do you or your child depend on coffee or caffeine to get the day started? What time does your child go to sleep? Depending on their age, children older than 3 typically need between 10 to 14 hours of shut-eye. It is essential for their development, so treat it as such.

My clients, a couple, had been struggling for years to get their children to bed by a certain hour. I helped them set a bedtime routine for the children, which included removing stimuli such as loud music and video games, and adding calming activities such as meditation. For the couple, I suggest soothing activities such as a hot bath and body massage, as well as white noise or soothing music, and aromatherapy in their bedroom.

Always remember consistency is the key. It’s more important to institute one simple and consistent bedtime change instead of several intermittently.

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Do you and your children have a purpose? Are you working toward that purpose and experiencing a sense of satisfaction? Do you talk to your children about the importance of the work they do every day — go to school, participate in family chores, show up for their teammates?

We are hearing a lot about “quiet quitting.” I’m suggesting the opposite — gaining clarity about what we want and need from work and school and making sure we’re living authentically.

One of my clients is a 42-year-old woman with a teenage daughter. With her divorce, my client’s income and lifestyle changed drastically, and she was struggling. I helped her see that she needed to find purpose, and a job would give her that. It was a vital piece for her overall stability. My client is now happily pursuing her degree in cosmetology.

Few people connect the dots between food and emotional or behavioral chaos. Ask yourself — are you and your children using food to stay healthy and energized?

A family I counsel ate on the run. I helped them find meaning in sitting around a table during mealtimes at least a few times a week, and raised their awareness about eating nutritious food. This helped improve their mental and physical health and strengthened them as a family.

Mealtime is a time when your family should be undistracted, adhere to rules such as no technology at the table and make eye contact as you connect over that day’s events, share feelings and solve problems so everyone feels heard.

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E — EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION

For you and your children to be emotionally healthy, you need to be in touch with your thoughts and feelings and be able to express them. Do you let the important people in your life know how you are feeling through emotional expression?

A couple came to see me because they were constantly arguing over issues regarding their children. I taught them to express their emotions and feelings about what was happening in their home with their children. This brought them the clarity they needed to move forward and address their core problems.

Every relationship needs to be nurtured. If you or your children are not able to communicate your thoughts and feelings, it will be difficult to connect with the people around you to establish the emotional safety and sense of permanence we all need.

Play is critical to our overall functioning. It helps us learn how to self-soothe, shift out of a bad mood, manage anxiety, maintain an individual identity and broaden our perspectives. What do you do in your leisure time with the primary purpose of having fun? Ideally, these activities would keep you physically and mentally fit, give you a creative outlet, and maybe even enable you to network or enhance other areas of your life.

One of my clients had a blank look when I asked about her hobbies and how she soothed herself. It took her some time to recall her two favorite things — needlepoint and ladies card night, which she had enjoyed before her marriage and early into it. She vowed to reinstitute them. And about six weeks later, she reported back — a happy wife and mother.

These five aspects of our life are at the core of our capacity to thrive as parents and individuals. Think of SWEEP as your family’s report card that you can turn to often to grade your family’s well-being.

Your children are watching and learning from you. Parenting begins with how you show up for yourself and how you model for your family the values that are essential for health and happiness.

We welcome your comments on this column at OnYourMind@washpost.com.

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