You know those families, the ones who seem to have it all together. Close bonds, loving relationships, and appropriate conflict resolution (well, at least most of the time!) Maybe it’s your neighbor or the lady on the soccer field, but we all know a stable family that make us curious and motivated. So what’s the secret?
My experience working as a family therapist helping to restore families has uncovered some common themes of families who seem to have deep, personal, and loving connections. Families who create and sustain loving bonds, appropriate boundaries, and value each member’s unique contribution to the family system are most likely to raise emotionally and mentally strong children and teens. With all the information on different parenting strategies, cultural accommodations, and always changing technology, these themes remain consistent across generations of emotionally strong family systems:
Family is our first introduction to language, social interaction, and our first lifeline to begin deciphering the world that we are living in. As a parent, it is our job to guide and protect our children into becoming the individual they are meant to be; however, our never ending to do lists, busy work schedules, and lack of energy and sleep can frequently get in the way. To build emotionally strong children, parents need to send the message children are heard, understood, and also have a place in the hierarchy of the family system. Parents have a daunting task of balancing the role between authority and love, compassion and compromise.
Emotionally strong families have parents who validate their children. That means putting down the cell phone or email to listen about the mundane details of their day and “showing up” for the little moments of life. Many parents tend to confuse validation with encouraging our children’s every decision. Validation does not mean that you are agreeing with your child’s point of view, it simply sends the message “I hear you, and what you’re saying is important to me”. To add some validation to your family communication patterns, be mindful when your children may be looking for encouragement or acknowledgement. Spend time without phones and send the message that you are ready to listen if/when they are ready. 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman is a great resource to identify the way your child best receives validation. Children require love and validation in different ways, and siblings likely have differing love languages. Getting to know your child’s unique needs and sending a message of inclusion is a key part of an emotionally strong family.
Emotionally strong families have a unique balance between togetherness and separation that provides the boundaries necessary for a well-adjusted family system. One way to combat confusion is setting family guidelines or expectations. Notice I did not utilize the word “rules” because a guideline is something different. Guidelines, unlike rules, are created and enforced by the entire family system. For instance togetherness is an important part of keeping a family bond strong, but how you spend that time is unique to your family’s needs, schedules, and interests. Sit down with your family and discuss the feelings about your boundaries, allow each member to share their feelings on the time spent with family. You may be surprised the amount of insight your child or teen has into the communication patterns and their ideas. An example of a guideline may be every Sunday the entire family comes together for pasta night, or the last Tuesday of the month the boys get to decide the next family outing. This provides an opportunity for your children or teen to have some power in decision making, while also providing structure to their requests.
Don’t Treat Your Children as Fragile
Today our society is very focused on inclusion of all people, which is wonderful; however, it has created a fear of rejection that is becoming overwhelming to some degree. We are overly concerned if our children are fitting in, being treated fairly, and constantly making sure to catch them before they fail to a point of no return. Although by doing this we may feel that we are protecting our children, we are actually hindering their ability to overcome adversity. Children are EXTREMELY resilient as these experiences of being the last to be picked on the soccer team, having an unfair detention or consequence at school, or struggling to create friendships shape them into empathetic, understanding and well-adjusted adults. Always coming to the rescue for your child will hurt in the long run, as you foster dependence and send the message that your child cannot effectively overcome adversity without your help. Inform your child it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to be angry, and it’s OK to have bad days. Talk about it, and teach coping strategies to let it go. Encouraging your child’s independence is an important strategy for emotionally stable families.
Parenting is one of the most difficult and least rewarded jobs in the world. There is no manual to becoming perfect family because guess what, there is no perfect family! Take the tips above and see how you can incorporate them into your unique family needs.
Michelle Smith MS, RMHCI