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Tip & Info

Healthy Family Relationships

An overview for parents

Family relationships

Families are a vital part of children’s and young people’s lives as this is where they are loved, nurtured, cared for and learn to become independent adults.[1][2] The family and the relationships within have a huge influence on a child’s well-being and emotional development and their ability to cope with situations, challenges, relationships and living.[3] The purpose of this topic is to provide insights into family relationships and to give practical strategies to help build these relationships in order to support your child’s or young person’s positive mental, behavioural, emotional and physical development.


What is family?

A family is a place where a person can feel that they belong. Usually, but not always, families are based on biological and marital connections.[4] There are also families made up of individuals who have no biological relationship to any other person in the household, but who see themselves as a family member – such as a carer or long term friends living in a domestic arrangement. Cultural factors also influence how a family is identified. Indigenous families usually involve a more extensive network of relationships compared to non-indigenous families.

The makeup of families has diversified over the last 20 – 30 years so rather than focus on structure it is more useful to focus on how the family is functioning and on family processes. How people are relating within the family, no matter what its structure, is what is important for children’s healthy development.[5]

What is the impact of family relationships on the lives of children and young people?

Having good and healthy relationships between family members will assist the child/young person to feel safe, secure and loved. Regardless of the structure of a family, the parent’s and carer’s role is to establish an environment of love, care, nurturing and respect as well as to provide support and guidance for children and young people as they grow. This role is critical for fostering their development and transition into independent fully functioning adults.

In particular, parent-child relationships have a crucial impact on child outcomes, with warm and supportive parents being associated with positive mental, behavioural, emotional and physical child development. A child needs this type of emotional environment in which to learn and grow.[6] Studies reveal for example that less severe disagreements between adolescents and their parents are associated with a warm engaged parenting style that uses positive communication. This style of parenting results in teenagers who are more engaged in relationships and who become positive problem solvers.[7] As young people begin to emerge into young adults whether still living at home with their parents, or transitioning to partial or full independence their sense of identity and life satisfaction are enhanced by strong family bonds.[8]

Harsh, abusive, and/or emotionally neglectful parenting may create emotional, behavioural, mental, and physical health difficulties in childhood and at later stages in life.[9]

Let your kids know you care and remain approachable.
What are some tips for growing stronger family relationships?

The following strategies can be used by parents and carers to grow healthy and strong family relationships:

  • Show emotional stability and consistency – Studies have revealed that where parents are able to demonstrate emotional stability and consistency in thought and actions they are more likely to be warm, cooperative and sympathetic in relation to their children.[10] This in turn plays an important role in creating a quality parent-child relationship. As parents show that they value socially acceptable behaviours in both themselves and their children they foster greater trust, harmony, active cooperation and positive coexistence with their children. Being consistently warm and respectful is a great way to show children and young people that they are being loved and cared for.
  • Embrace a positive values based parenting style – A value’s based approach to parenting helps children understand how their behaviours affect others in the household and those they interact with outside of the home. When parents set an example of positive respect and kindness between each other their children learn to treat each other and others with respect and kindness too. Children who grow up with a positive value system will have happier more fulfilling relationships with others. This parenting approach includes providing clear expectations and boundaries that are appropriate for a child’s age and stage of development. Boundaries are usually about setting limits and rules about behaviours and activities. They generally work well when everyone in the family can participate in a discussion about the boundaries and have a clear understanding of what is expected and what will happen if the boundaries are not adhered to. A few clear and consistent boundaries are more likely to be effective than a long list of rules.
  • Give attention to healthy and appropriate behaviour – Praising children and young people for things they do well is as important as setting boundaries. Praise is something we all love to receive as it makes us feel good about ourselves. Praise that is specific to a particular thing they have accomplished or task they have completed is more effective than general praise.
  • Be attentive to your children and involve them in family life – Being listened to and being involved in family life is a necessity for every child and young person. Provide your child with opportunities to express their opinion and also be part of the household decisions making. It will help you to understand their point of view and will help them feel that they are part of the family.
  • Spend time together – Spend time together doing things that you both enjoy, such as playing together, going to the local park etc. Use the time that you spend together such as mealtimes for conversation and a good laugh. Make sure your family does fun stuff together on a regular basis. When planning family outings and activities take into consideration the needs all family members. One way of spending quality with younger children is by reading with them on a regular basis. This is a great way to develop their reading abilities as well as having time together. This in turn will strengthen the parent-child bond and will provide your child with a great head start at school.
  • Give space to your child to express their independence – It is important to know what’s going on in the lives of children and young people but they also need their own personal space and autonomy suited to their age, stage of development and maturity.
  • Find out about children’s development – Knowing what kinds of behaviours are typical at their age and stage of development as they grow will help you understand why your child or young person is doing certain things or responding in certain ways. This can assist you with whether you should be concerned about their behaviour or not and in choosing an appropriate response.
  • Look after yourself – It is also important to look after your own needs which includes spending time with your partner or other people that you are close to. Feeling supported in a parenting role will help you to cope with various parenting challenges along the way. Eating right, getting enough sleep and taking time to relax will also help you look after yourself physically and mentally. If you have a partner or an ex-partner who is also involved in the parenting of your child or young person, it is important that you work together in order to get the best outcome. Children and young people do better when parents and carers are working towards a shared goal rather than in conflict with each other.
  • Manage work-family conflict – Time pressures and the strain imposed by working can interfere with the energy available for parents especially when both work.[11] In order to reduce stress and to have more time and energy available for family life some working parents engage assistance from friends or family, or by purchasing services with various aspects of the household for example with yard work and household tidiness, or by ordering groceries on line and having them delivered.
  • Focus on communication – Good communication is important for good relationships. Communicating is about both talking and listening.

Communication will:

  • help each person get their needs met
  • help resolve conflict
  • improve your bond with your child and encourage them to listen to you
  • assist your child to develop and form relationships with others as well as foster their own positive self-esteem

Organisations are increasingly acknowledging the strain that work can place on families and many have flexible work arrangements to support their employees. If work is causing strain and stress on your family approach your manager or human resources person in your organisation to see if there is some way that the pressure can be better managed through the use of flexible work arrangements. Flexible start and finish times can be worked into school hours for example where one parent starts work later so that he/she can be available to organise breakfast, lunches and the school drop off while the other parent commences work early so that he/she can leave work early to collect the children from school, supervise homework and prepare the evening meal.

Calm conversations with your kids will always be more productive.

References

1. Australian Government. (2006). Snapshots of Australian families with adolescents. (2006). Facts Sheet for the National Families Week 14-20 May 2006: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

2. Baxter, J., Gray, M., & Hayes, A. (2009). Diverse families making a difference. Facts Sheet for the National Families Week 10-16 May 2009. Australian Government: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

3. Raising Children Network. (2006). Families that work well. Retrieved from: http://www.raisingchildren.net.au

4. Moloney, L., Weston, R., Qu, L., & Hayes, A. (2012). A literature review: families, life events and family service delivery. Research Report No.,20. Australian Institute of Family Studies

5. Raising Children Network. (2010). Building good family relationships. Retrieved from: http://www.raisingchildren.net.au

6. Vig, D. & Jaswal, J. J. S. (2014). Inter relationship between parental use of positive values and strong family bonds. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, Volume 5: 10, pp 1181-1183. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1636350569?accountid=13380

7. Crocettia, E. & Meeusa, W. (2014). "Family comes first!" Relationships with family and friends in Italian emerging adults Journal of Adolescence Volume 37: 8, pp 1463-1473

8. Waylen, A. & Stewart-Brown, S. (2009). Factors influencing parenting in early childhood: a prospective longitudinal study focusing on change. Child: care, health and development, 36 (2), 198-207.

9. Somech, A & Drach-Zahav, A. (2007). Strategies for coping with work family conflict: the distinctive relationships of gender role ideology. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Vol 12: 1: pp1-19

10. Op cit Vig. (2014)

11. Somech, A & Drach-Zahav, A. (2007). Strategies for coping with work family conflict: the distinctive relationships of gender role ideology. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. Vol 12: 1: pp1-19

This topic was last reviewed January 2015.

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