Things that I imagine would be cool to do with my kids (if I manage to have some): taking bedtime as a moment to reminisce about the day together.
Recalling enjoyable moments is by itself enjoyable. So ask, what parts of the day did you like? What were some good moments? What about it was enjoyable?
At first, it’ll be just me mentioning things I noticed on that day: “You seemed to really like playing with those toys today.” “You looked happy being with uncle X.”
Hopefully soon the kids will notice that this is enjoyable and start paying more conscious attention to the good moments throughout the day – and start bringing up things on their own. (And feel like that was their own idea to also contribute, rather than it just being their dad telling them these things.)
Later, start also covering the moments when they were unhappy or upset. Are they feeling okay now, anything about it that they still want or need to discuss? Even if they’re fine now, make sure to take those moments and reframe them in an explicitly accepting light (all emotions are fine, including negative ones):
- “That really was upsetting for you but now you’re okay, all bad feelings pass eventually.”
- “You held yourself together back there even though you were really unhappy about it, that was great. You could have chosen not to even try, but you did do it.”
- “We both got a little mad at each other earlier but that’s okay, kids need to be mad at dad sometimes and sometimes dad gets mad back. I try not to, but that’s on me, and I love you no matter what.”
Then maybe recall some happy moments that we discussed when it was bedtime on earlier days, and which they might have forgotten otherwise. Keep those unhappy moments firmly sandwiched between good ones.
Also tell them about all the moments today when they made me and mom happy and how we love them. Then a bedtime story and wishing good night.
Hopefully the conversations should keep getting more sophisticated as the kids get older. Get into topics like the value of negative emotions, and what unmet need their unhappiness in that moment was a signal of. Help them brainstorm ways they could meet that need better from now on.
Then one day when they’re adults, hopefully they’ll be so firmly in the habit of going through the good moments and the lessons-in-the-bad-moments that they won’t need me for it anymore, and it has just become automatic.
And if it hasn’t, that’s cool too. At least we had lots of good moments together doing it.
(Or if this whole thing always just seems uninteresting and dumb to them, then we’ll just have to come up with something completely different that they’ll like more.)