“Everyone needs a house to live in, but a supportive family is what builds a home.”Anthony Liccione
Families come in many different configurations with different kinds of people in the “parent” role and an equally diverse field of those in the “child” position if there are children.
What are some of the features that allow us to lump all these groups of people under the heading of “family?”
They all represent a unit that provides the members with an emotional bond, a sense of belonging, and hopefully a safe environment in which to grow and develop individually. It is within the family that a child first starts to develop a sense of self in relation to others. It is within the family that same child then develops his view of himself as competent, lovable, and valuable – or not. This sense of self, whether positive or negative, has a great impact on how the child will function in the outside world.
What can we do as parents to insure that our children grow up in a supportive family with a positive self- image that will provide them the confidence they need to take on challenges they meet outside the home?
Experts in the field spend lifetimes attempting to answer that question, so we will touch on only a few important points here. One of the key components of a healthy family environment is safety. Members need to feel that there is safety to express oneself, to make mistakes and to be vulnerable. A child who is always on edge expecting a verbal or physical attack necessarily withdraws emotionally and uses his energy to protect himself, not to grow. Learning requires that we are able to make an effort, fail and try again. That process requires support from others, especially those close to us and on whom we are dependent.
Another key element in supportive families is responsiveness. We need to know that not only will we not be attacked, but that others will respond to our needs and requests. We all know that infants whose cries are not met with help become depressed and stop reaching out. So too will older children and adults. In order to feel confident and hopeful, we have to feel that we can predictably impact our environment. If not, we stop trying.
What can we do to improve the positive bonds in our families that are so vital for individual growth?
In this modern time when family members are more in tune with their electronic gadgets, what can we do to improve the positive bonds in our families that are so vital for individual growth? First, we can create an atmosphere where it is safe to be oneself without fear of attack or abandonment and where members feel valued and loved. Second, we can tune into and hear each individual member and respond to their unique sensitivities and desires. We can accept each member “as is” while also celebrating their efforts to grow.
Rina Berkus, Clinical Supervisor