By Lakshmi Singh on The Sydney Morning Herald
Creating a functional family that feels connected is no small feat. So when Dr. Shaun Thayer found out that he and his wife were having triplets, adding to the three children they already had, he knew it would be tough.
Through trial and error, he discovered that communication was key. This is despite the fact that communication and remaining emotionally available can be incredibly challenging after a hard day at work.
"I think its important to take a breath and realize that sometimes shutting things off can seem like an easy option, but in the long run, if they get the feeling that their problems are insignificant, will they come to us during really difficult times?"
Indeed. Plus, a connected family does not just benefit the children.
"When we've got family relations working well, our productivity increases and our engagement in life increases. Life is simply better for us as individuals and as a society," says Dr. Justin Coulson, parenting expert and author of What Your Child Needs From You.
It is for this reason that functional family relationships are also a focus for the United Nations. The theme for this year's International Day of Families on May 15 is "Advancing Social Integration and Intergenerational Solidarity."
Social integration benefits the society at large, they say in a recent report, and it starts with the family unit. The experts agree with Thayer that cohesiveness within the family unit begins with communication.
"The most cohesive families are the ones where partners relate cooperatively with each other, communicate effectively, and are on the same page when making decisions on how to deal with their children," says Braham Morris, a psychologist at Psychology Melbourne.
A part of this, adds Dr. Coulson, means making a commitment to being present.
"Attention is the currency of relationships, just like dollars are the currency of our economy," he says. An insufficient amount of 'currency' is likely to lead to problems in both cases.
This can lead to discord in the family unit and affect each individual's well-being and productivity.
"This means high levels of anxiety and stress for children and parents. We see a decline in children's academic work and at parents' workplaces," Coulson says.
Another knock-on effect is the impact on extended family relationships. If we are not connecting at a nuclear level, our connections with our wider circle of family are likely to be compromised, which can also impact our sense of identity.
"Identity, to a very large degree will impact on the choices we make, the behaviors we enact, what values we uphold and the things we choose to believe in," says Dr. Coulson.
"When families are connected intergenerationally, parents and grandparents share stories about their family with their children. This gives children a foundation to build their identity based on family experience and cultural context."
To create a more cohesive family, Morris and Coulson recommend:
- Spending time with everyone, including extended family, preferably face-to-face to create a culture of sharing experiences.
- Practicing good listening skills – understanding and delving deeper into what's being said, rather than just hearing the statements made.
- Being involved in your kids' lives, asking questions – exploring and experiencing adventures through them – even if it involves technology.
- On the flip side, consciously reducing electronic dependence during designated family times.
- Learning effective parental discipline techniques and understanding that you are trying to encourage an open relationship with your kids, but not be their best friends.
- Teaching children how to regulate emotions and validating their feelings.
** If you or someone you know is struggling with family relationships, contact our office to schedule a Family Initial Assessment.