Q: I think my family is pretty healthy overall, even though we've faced some challenges. But somehow we seem to have lost our joy in day-to-day life. What do you suggest?
Jim: If laughter is rare at your house, your family is probably feeling the effects.
The good news is that you can change the atmosphere in your home today. No matter what we're facing, we choose how to respond. While some scenarios are serious and call for a sober reaction, every day brings opportunities to show our children how to enjoy life.
In fact, that skill may be most important in the midst of struggles. If we can continue to choose joy when we're tempted to be discouraged, we'll be modeling a life-changing habit for our kids.
Practically speaking, one way to nurture fun and joy seems almost too simple: Relearn to play! Set aside your to-do list occasionally and join your children in play. You'll immediately see a difference in your family's overall mood.
Second, remember that serving others can work wonders for our state of mind. When we take the focus off our own problems by helping someone else, we'll find that gratitude and joy follow.
And finally, don't cry over spilled milk. We all make mistakes. But if we allow mishaps to ruin our day, our kids will find it difficult to extend grace to themselves and others. Rather than shaming our children for honest mistakes, we can put an arm around them and remind them that accidents happen.
In the end, just a few simple habits can change the entire atmosphere in your home. I wish you the best.
Q: Can you explain why my infant daughter started screaming when my great-aunt dropped by last weekend and wanted to hold her? In the past the baby has always had a smile for everyone, but this time she just went ballistic! What do you think happened?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: It sounds like you're dealing with a normal case of stranger anxiety. As early as six months of age, a new phase develops in which a child who formerly seemed comfortable around everyone will begin showing anxiety among unfamiliar people. The approach of someone new -- or someone she hasn't seen for a while -- will provoke a wide-eyed stare, usually followed by wailing and clinging to you for protection.
Fear of strangers is virtually universal as the first birthday approaches and usually continues well into the second year. So, you (and your great-aunt) can relax about it. In fact, a simple strategy may help her and your baby get acquainted.
First, it's less stressful for the baby if someone new doesn't try to touch, kiss or hold her right away. In fact, even a direct return of your baby's stare may set off a healthy cry. Instead, chat with this new person as if nothing else is going on. Let the baby see this is someone you're comfortable with. Give her time to observe and get used to the sight of this individual. After a while, some simple exchanges of looks, touches and eventually play will begin naturally as your great-aunt becomes one of the gang.
Note that other factors may also be at play. Your child might be feeling hungry and/or tired. She might have been startled by something your great-aunt did or was wearing at the time. Babies can get especially stressed if they wake up and first see an unfamiliar face.
The first few years of your child's life provide an amazing opportunity to learn about how she is uniquely created -- including her personality, likes/dislikes and responses to what she encounters. It's a great season in your parenting journey.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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