Fostering Family Connectedness

Parent-child interactions can affect children's behavior over and above the influence of socioeconomic and demographic factors, such as income, family structure and parent education. High parental warmth and supportiveness contribute to healthy development."

Family Strengths: Often Overlooked, But Real

As we head into the busy holiday season, we reflect on the strength of families for raising healthy kids. Amidst all the "hustle and bustle," it is true many often deal with increased stress and heightened grief. But hopefully, through it all, families are strengthened as traditions are kept and new memories made.

Research has continued to identify "family connectedness" as a key factor in determining a child's health. According to the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), it is one of several protective factors that are:

"... individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events. These factors also increase an individual's ability to avoid risks or hazards, and promote social and emotional competence to thrive in all aspects of life, now and in the future."

Family connectedness- or parent engagement- is a sense of closeness and support that the child experiences (more than that which the parent experiences). Do they feel supported and unconditionally loved? Do they feel close and able to communicate about life issues?

If so, then here comes the good news:

Studies have shown that students who have parents engaged in their lives are more likely to have

* Higher grades and test scores.

* Better student behavior.

* Enhanced social skills.

In addition, students who have parents engaged in their lives are less likely to

* Smoke cigarettes.

* Drink alcohol.

* Become pregnant.

* Be physically inactive.

(https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/pdf/parentengagement_parents.pdf)

So how can parents be more involved in their children's lives and promote this "connectedness?" How can they provide "high parental warmth and supportiveness?"

We will suggest two strategies:

(1) By providing high levels of supervision and high levels of love

- Or another way to think of this is as focusing on both rules and relationship.

Both of these take time and energy that busy parents often don't have, yet they are critical to foster the close relationship needed for healthy development and healthy decisions.

  • Being there for important events and everyday sharing.

  • Engaging in dinnertime or end-of-day discussions and reflections.

  • Driving carpools, chaperoning events, volunteering at school.

  • Setting clear expectations with appropriate consequences for not meeting them.

(2) By building shared memories and shared messages- These foster a sense of family identity that help meet basic relational needs of the children. When their "love tanks" are filled at home, they are less likely to go "looking for love in all the wrong places."

  • Plan low-cost outings or trips- take lots of pictures- make a photo album.

  • Set a list of "family rules" - how we "do life" together in our home.

  • Family game nights, help with household chores, make projects together.

  • Holiday and faith traditions, visiting relatives.

So take time this holiday season to treasure the gift of family- as special and unique as yours is. Invest time and energy in your most important relationships- and be encouraged that you are having a powerful impact on the health of your child.

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