While the field of psychology is less than 150 years old, the specific study of the family is less than 50 years old. In that time, the family unit has experienced significant changes and the definition of the traditional “nuclear family” has become outdated and no longer encompasses most family structures. Today’s children may be raised by a single parent, grandparents, same-sex parents, multicultural parents, and their family unit may include a tribe of extended family members that are or are not blood-related. The research shows that the endless forms of family structures do not present any problems for effective child-rearing, however, it has revealed protective family characteristics that best help shape the child and prepare them for the world. This post shares some of the findings in the hope it empowers parents of all structures and provides some tangible goals for positive childrearing.
First, it should be noted that consistency is crucial. Children need to feel boundaries to feel safe. They will test boundaries and push them to their limits, yet ultimately hitting against the wall of the boundary makes them feel safe. An example of keeping effective boundaries is telling a child no or setting a limit and then maintaining the “no” or limit when (or if) they beg for more. Like saying no to television or video games and not giving in when (or if) they beg for more. Giving in puts them in a position of power where they become the parent and they no longer feel as safe and secure (even if they look happy in the short term for getting their way).
If you say no, back it up. If you can’t then don’t threaten a rule that you can’t reinforce. If another parent in inconsistent and you can’t reason with them to maintain consistency, just keep practicing consistency with your boundaries. Your word and boundaries are like a lighthouse in a sea of foggy confusion for them.
Like consistent boundaries, children thrive on rituals. Rituals and traditions provide order and structure—which are like lifesavers in the chaos of growth. Children’s bodies and minds are changing every day. There is a high degree of uncertainty and legitimate growing pains, plus the demands for endless productivity that is constantly graded in school. Not to mention the social challenges of forming ever changing friendships with other children. Life can be naturally chaotic. Add in any family drama and chaos and the need for structure is that much higher. Some research found that children in alcoholic families were more likely to face alcoholism if they did not have strong rituals whereas children in alcoholic families that maintained strong ritual protection were less likely to repeat the alcoholic cycle.
Another characteristic observed in resilient families is shared values and goals. It has been said you can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you are. Effective businesses often employ a kind of continual discovery where they evaluate and identify values and goals. Families may often operate from unspoken values and goals, yet it couldn’t hurt to sit down and document them. Family retreats can be held to talk about and process values and goals. While families fare better when parents have hierarchal authority, being open and flexible to children’s (age-appropriate) feedback is a hallmark of the highest functioning families.
Perhaps the biggest and most obvious characteristic of all is love. Loving and nurturing families that provide empathy and consistent care equip children with the highest level of resilience and healthy self-soothing. Loving families provide respect for each other regardless of age and do not treat each other as possessions and refrain from relying on children for their emotional support. Each person is respected and cherished for their own personality. Children are not used as pawns to influence siblings, parents, or other family members nor is a child’s parent getting ridiculed (regardless of how outlandish the parent’s behavior is—when a parent is insulted, that parent is still part of the child, so the child also feels as hurt no matter how much they hide the feelings from you or how much they criticize the parent).
The icing on the cake is joy and laughter. Families that are resilient enjoy each other. They have fun. They play and laugh together. Life is—and especially childhood—is too short to take so seriously. No family is perfect and we all have scars, traumas, and issues. We are fallible human beings and we fail. Yet, we can laugh and get back up together. A family provides the nest that teaches how to fall and get back up. So, laugh, giggle and have fun. Enjoy the precious moments and may your smiles be more than your frowns.
To sum it up: