09 November 2016
At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we feel strongly that there is no perfect family, or even a “normal” one. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and have their unique ways of interacting with each other. However, something we’ve observed over the years is that healthy, well-functioning families tend to have several key characteristics in common:
- mutual support
- love and caring for each other
- a sense of security and belonging
- open communication
- a confidence within each family member that they are important, respected and valued
To help the families in our practice, as well as families everywhere, treat each other with respect, enjoy (not simply tolerate) each other’s company and have healthy, positive interactions, we’ve compiled these 6 guidelines for a joyful and connected family where everyone flourishes and even the teenager treasures family time. Let us know if they help your family.
6 guidelines for maintaining a healthy, well-functioning family
Dinner: 30 Minutes to a More Connected Family
Believe it or not, time spent having dinner together as a family is an excellent gauge of how well kids will navigate adolescence. The more frequently kids eat dinner with their families, the better they do in school and the less likely they are to get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide or become sexually active during high school. Why? Maybe because families who eat together talk more, which helps them stay connected and build better relationships. Dinner transforms individual family members into a “group” – all for one and one for all. And, children, even more than adults, need something to count on every day, the tangible security of belonging and being nurtured that is represented by the ritual of sharing food with those who love you.
Why Kids Need Routines and Structure
Children are confronted with change daily, which can be stressful. Their own bodies change on them constantly. Babies and toddlers give up pacifiers, bottles and cribs. School-age kids have to get used to new teachers and classmates every year. They learn new skills and information at an astonishing pace, from reading and crossing the street to soccer and riding a bike. Few live in the same house for their entire childhood; most move several times, often to new cities, new neighborhoods and schools. Routines give kids a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline. And few of these changes are within the child’s control. That’s why dependable, productive routines can keep stress and tempers at bay and give soothing structure to family life.
The Family That Plays Together
From a joke-telling competition to an impromptu pillow fight, infusing a spirit of joy and playfulness into your home nurtures your family like little else. Playing together is an almost magical way to build connection, because when you’re laughing with someone, you’re bonding. Laughter also heals minor relationship stress, helps people forget grudges, and brings the family into cohesion. We have seen that children whose parents use silliness to keep the day flowing smoothly are lucky indeed.
If the idea of family meetings seem stilted and artificial, our advice is: just try them. They create connection. They give you a way to work things out when everyone’s calm. They help your kids learn to solve problems. They help kids feel like integral members of the family. They give every family member a voice. They even help siblings work things out and appreciate each other. Again, schedule a couple and let us know how they worked.
Make Your Home a Haven
To thrive, we all need a safe place — both physically and emotionally — to come home to. Children especially need a secure, solid home where they feel protected and can recharge. No matter how independent they become after they start having sleepovers and sports tournaments, when they come home they want two things: a safe place where they can be fully themselves, and to connect with the rest of the family in a comfortable way. So what can you do, in this busy world, to create a sanctuary for your family?
Family Culture: Shared Identity and Belonging
How do you hold a family together? How do you make kids WANT to spend time with the family? The answers to these questions largely have do with the family culture you create. For example, take an interest in each other’s interests and hobbies, like Star Wars, ice skating or cooking. Seize any excuse to celebrate and have fun together whenever possible. As stated earlier, share dinner together whenever possible. And most all, create family rituals. Through their repetition, rituals reinforce family cohesion through shared, cherished experiences (Jack-O-Lantern carving, birthday celebrations, July 4th picnics).
Maintaining a healthy family
In order to provide a supportive, emotionally-healthy environment, you might consider the following questions:
- Do you treat each child as an individual? Each child has his/her own temperament, strengths and weaknesses. Parents may love their children equally, but naturally will have different relationships with each of them. It’s important to develop a unique relationship with each of your children, reinforcing their talents and “specialness.”
- Are your expectations of your children realistic? Your child’s maturity, self-awareness, knowledge and skills are constantly changing. Find out what can reasonably be expected of him/her at each stage of development. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we can help in this area; please come in and talk with us.
- Does the time you spend together as a family foster good relationships? Can you describe your “family togetherness” time as fun, relaxed and mutually beneficial…or tense, competitive and full of conflict?
- Are you teaching your child solid, positive values? Remember, you and your spouse are the most important role models for your child and you need to demonstrate your value system, through actions as well as words.
If you’re concerned about your family, please come see us
If you are worried or have questions about the way your family interacts and treats one another, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics to come in and talk to one of our pediatricians. We are here for you with guidance, advice and a listening ear. We look forward to speaking with you.