Children and young adults’ development and wellbeing depend on healthy family relationships and supportive homes.
Be You uses the term “family” to refer to parents, caregivers, and other adults responsible for young children and their care. The family members might not be biologically related or live with the child or young adult all the time. One or more parents or caregivers may be present for a person, such as grandparents, step-parents or same-sex parents, aunts or uncles, foster parents, or adoptive parents.
Any person can consider their family a family.
Family relationships and the environment in which they live have the greatest impact on their lives. Children and youth can thrive if they have positive family relationships. However, negative experiences can impact their well-being and future development.
Every family is unique. Families are unique. It is important to recognize that all families come in different shapes and sizes with different needs.
Research has shown that family relationships are more important than their composition or size. No matter who the family is, they can create strong, positive relationships that support wellbeing and help children and young people’s mental wellbeing.
- Families are important
- Experiences in childhood have lasting effects
- The relationships that children and young people have directly affect their health. People who receive emotional, social and physical support are more likely to reach their full potential and have better health outcomes later in life.
- Family members directly impact development and long-term wellbeing.
- Family functioning and the home environment are the most important factors in development. The learning environment is the next most influential.
- Children and young people who have healthy family relationships feel loved and secure. This affects their brain development, sense of self, and ability to see the world from their perspective.
- Family positive and supportive family relationships can help individuals build independence, trust, responsibility, confidence, and self-reliance. These relationships provide safe spaces for exploration, guidance, and the opportunity to make mistakes. Children and young people also learn from their families to be good friends and build relationships throughout their lives. Healthy relationships are more likely for children and young adults to have positive peer relationships and grow up as confident, resilient individuals.
- Healthy families
- These are what they look like
- Healthy family relationships are built on trust. People rely on one another for support, love and affection. Families share common goals and work together towards achieving them. For example, young children may help their parents prepare dinner so everyone can relax.
- Families feel connected and secure with one another. These relationships can sometimes lead to conflict, but this is part of family life. There are many ways for conflict to occur, including between children, adults and young people. These conflicts can be handled respectfully and safely in healthy relationships.
- Positive interactions are more common in healthy families than those that have experienced difficult times. Adults in difficult situations may offer guidance and model coping strategies. Children and young people should not feel stressed out, but it is helpful for them to see their families succeeding with positive coping strategies.
- According to the Family Strengths Research Project, these were the key characteristics of a strong family unit as identified by Australians:
- communication Listening to one another and communicating openly and honestly
- Unity – sharing common values and beliefs that foster a sense of belonging.
- Sharing activities – Spending time together doing what they love (e.g., reading, playing games, or camping)
- affection Showing affection and love regularly through words, hugs and kisses.
- Support – Offering and asking for help. Family members know they will be supported with encouragement, support and reassurance.
- acceptance Understanding, respecting and appreciating the unique characteristics of each family member
- Commitment – Seeing family wellbeing as a priority and acting accordingly with loyalty and commitment
- resilience Being able to accept difficulties and adapt positively to changing circumstances.
- Communication breakdown, parenting issues, and difficult relationships are the most significant challenges in family relationships.
- Family risk factors
- There are many reasons that some people are more susceptible to mental health problems and behavioural difficulties than others. Many factors can increase the risk of developing mental health problems in children and young adults.
- The following are risk factors in the family:
- Family conflict, instability, or separation
- Inadequate parenting or lack of involvement in children and youth
- Family violence, child abuse and neglect
- Substance abuse or mental health issues
- A serious illness or disability
- financial difficulties.
- Families need to be aware of the protective factors
- Protective factors reduce the risk of someone who has a mental illness. These factors are associated with positive outcomes for children and youth and protect them from potential danger.
- Family members can be protected by the following:
- Caring, consistent relationships characterize strong and stable family relationships.
- Supportive parenting is, for example: Being available to talk to and listen to children and young adults
- Strong family values, for example, include a shared understanding of how to treat others.
- Consistency in routines and limits is responding similarly to young children’s behaviour.
- How to support families
- A child’s mental wellbeing and mental health can be affected by many factors in the family. These factors are often present in the home, and educators may not be aware of them. Recognizing that children and youth have multiple influences can help you understand and support someone who has a mental illness. Your school or early learning centre can help children and teens manage their mental health through support and connection with families.
- Partner with your families
- Respect the knowledge of family members about each child or young person.
- Consider the contributions of each family member and their role in each child’s or young person’s life.
- Families should communicate freely and with respect.
- Please share your thoughts and experiences about children and young people.
- Participate in joint decision-making
- Open communication and trust-building with family members
- Sharing information allows everyone to gain a deeper understanding:
- How to work together for the best support of children and youth
- Children and adolescents’ behaviour in school and at home
- The most effective ways to help to learn
- What children and young adults enjoy and their strengths
- Resources for dealing with emotional and social problems
- Families working together
- Families can take steps to build healthy and strong family relationships.
- You might want to share the strategies you have found to work well with families. If you can offer some support to families who need it, the following suggestions might be helpful:
- Spending quality time with your whole family and each child/young person, even if only for a few moments each day.
- One another can offer support and help.
- Doing fun things together and laughing.
- Talking to one another.
- You can tell your family members what you like about each other (e.g., “Dad”, I like your hugs or “Cara”, you asked for it very politely).
- It is important to have family discussions about organizing family events and working through problems.
- Inclusion of children and young people in decisions that affect them (for instance, giving children options to help them make a choice).
- Children and youth can learn problem-solving skills by modelling them to others. This will help them become more confident in resolving conflicts.
- When they have to juggle multiple demands, it is important to get support from friends, family, and professionals.
- Children and young adults need the support of a loving, supportive family. Their development and wellbeing are directly affected by the strength of their family relationships.
- You will likely observe and hear about the risk factors and protective factors that families face as an educator. Families can rely on you to provide support and resources to help them better support their children.