Building Family Connections

Relationships matter. As human beings, we have a deep pull toward being connected to each other. We learn about who we are in the context of social connections. There is clear data that shows that these positive childhood experiences have long term benefits. Those connections change the way our brain grows which influence the way we interpret and respond to the world around us. Families play a big role in how we make meaning of ourselves and the world. Children who hold the belief and experience that there is another person in the world to whom they really matter are more resilient. They are able to go through challenging situations or adverse experiences and recover; often stronger afterwards. Though the person who genuinely cares about a child can be a parent, relative, teacher or mentor; families play an important role. And, building a sense of connection in your family can be a challenge, especially if you did not have strong connections within your own extended family growing up. Here are some strategies for growing that sense of connection.

  • Know that relationships are messy. Being “connected” does not mean that everyone is cheerful and happy when you are sending time together. Those magical moments do show up but children learn the sense that they matter when you see them for who they really are even when they are tired, grumpy, mean, bored, or angry. Positive experiences happen when we are authentic…not just “smiley.”
  • Help your child build language to describe their inner experience. Children who can name and recognize the feelings that they have “feel felt” (connected) and do a better job of self-regulating. Teach children feeling words:
    • Describe what you see. “It seems like you are feeling disappointed because you wanted a candy bar and I won’t buy it for you.” “It looks like you are angry because your sister destroyed your building.”
    • Share your own feelings. “I’m feeling stressed because I need to get to work and I’m worried that I’ll be late.” “I’m feeling grumpy because a customer yelled at me today.”
    • Read stories together and talk about what the characters might be feeling.
    • Put a chart of feeling faces on your refrigerator so that you and your children can explore the meanings of different words.
    • Make a feelings chart of your own by taking pictures of your children making faces representing different feelings.
  • Model mistakes and taking care of your own emotions. “I’m feeling angry and disappointed right now because I burnt the rice. I’m going to sit and calm down so I don’t yell.”
  • Model making repairs. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it and do what you can to fix it. If you yell at your child in a moment of frustration, wait until you are both calm (even the next day) and apologize.
  • Connect before correct. “I can tell that you are angry right now but it is not okay to hit your brother.”
  • Remember that the “problem behavior” is usually a solution to another problem. Children misbehave more when, at that moment, they are missing their sense of connection (feel left out, ignored, rushed) or when they are missing their sense of being valuable. That doesn’t excuse the behavior – but it can help you understand that “who” your child is might be different than what they are doing when they are being obnoxious when a sibling has a friend over to visit.
  • Believe in your children. Over and over again parents tell us that one of the most powerful things that their parents did was to believe in them – even when they didn’t believe in themselves. Having faith that your child is really capable and loving despite the current challenge(s) is one of the biggest gifts you can give them.