People’s definitions of family vary widely and encompass many possibilities. The nuclear family, defined as a husband and wife living with their biological children, may be considered the standard, but it is not necessarily the norm. Family structures take many forms today.
Whatever the makeup of your family, these are the people who will bond with your child for life and help shape the person he becomes. Family members are more than a group of individuals. They make up an ecosystem—a living, breathing organism with purposes, goals, and individual parts that work together and influence each other. A family is like a toy mobile that hangs above your baby’s crib; when you add or subtract an element (or person), all the other elements move around and shift to create a new balance.
Although a child’s emotional development begins with his attachment to his parents or primary caregivers, his emotional growth continues within his overall family environment.
A Supportive Family
A supportive family can help your child in the following ways:
- Provide protection, security, supervision, and control
- Promote positive growth and development
- Reassure him that he is valued for his unique identity
- Provide emotional support and comfort
- Allow him to experience secure and meaningful relationships
- Teach him social skills and expand his awareness of others
- Give him a sense of belonging and historical connection
- Enhance his confidence in the world
- Develop his values and character
- Inspire him to pursue his dreams and to make a societal contribution
Supportive family relationships give your child a secure base from which to grow and develop. Familial connection and support can come from your family, your partner’s family, and even your circle of close friends.
Family rituals, routines, and traditions provide rhythm, organization, and predictability in life; give your child a sense of security and belonging; and establish family values. Family mealtimes and other events build your child’s sense of connectedness and promote his overall health and well-being. Research shows that children from families who eat meals together are less likely to be obese, to have eating disorders, and to use drugs or alcohol, and they are more likely to succeed in school. Shared meals in a positive atmosphere are opportunities for healthy eating and social interaction.
On the other hand, an unsupportive or abusive family atmosphere can damage a child’s emotional well-being. If either you or your partner comes from such a family, it is up to you to protect your child from abusive situations and people, even if they are family members. Your first responsibility is to your child. The demands of grandparents, extended family members, and close family friends are secondary.