At CatholicCare Victoria we believe that building strong family relationships is the key to building healthy, resilient communities.
Strong families give children the foundation they need to grow, and the support they need to face challenges and setbacks not only now, but into the future.
“Family is where we first experience love and care; where we learn to grow and thrive; and where we have the opportunity to form our strongest and most supportive connections,” says Agnes Sheehan, CEO CatholicCare Victoria.
“Within the family we learn the value of forgiveness and starting over, of trying, failing and being supported to try again.”
So how can parents and families build strong family relationships?
We spoke with two of our Family Relationship Practitioners in Bendigo, Julia Feiss and Lisa Castles, on five important elements for creating strong families.
1. Making time
“Time is often one of the biggest challenges for families,” says Julia and Lisa.
“Families are always on the go, but it’s important for families to have that downtime where they can focus on just being together.”
Making time is important for good communication, and for making children feel heard and validated.
“We need to be able to listen fully and be available for our kids. This means putting down what we’ve got going on. Kids will often come to us at inconvenient times, but if we just take a moment to give our full attention, it can give children that reassurance and validation they’re seeking.”
“Sometimes when kids act out or show signs of anger or stress, this can be their way of showing us that they need attention and they need some quality time with us.”
Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller tells us that having family downtime, without any structured plans, also allows children to develop creativity and teaches them that it’s okay not to be doing things all the time!
And so making regular time for downtime can also help with children’s boredom.
2. Having empathy
When children come to us with problems, it can be easy to be dismissive when it feels like the problem isn’t a big deal. But what isn’t a big deal for us, may likely be a big deal for our kids.
Instead of having sympathy (“poor you”) or being dismissive (“toughen up, it’s not a big deal”), try putting yourself in your child’s shoes.
“As parents, we need to go back and feel how we experienced things as a kid. Having empathy is an invitation for us to be vulnerable, and for us to connect with our children,” says Julia and Lisa.
Remember that your child is still learning and experiencing new things, and so they may need support to regulate their emotions or to problem solve.
“Teens and pre-teens will often have the problem-solving skills they need to solve things on their own, but younger children will need some support. We don’t want to solve problems for them, but we can help them learn to problem solve so that they can build resilience. We can offer support by saying things like “what do you think we can do about that?”
3. Building connection
“Building connection is about having an investment in each other,” says Julia and Lisa.
Maintaining connection becomes harder as kids get older, and so parents need to work harder at building connection. Patience is key!
Respectful and honest communication, empathy, and making time are all important for building and maintaining connection within families.
4. Asking for help
“We’ve all heard the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a family’, but these days parents often put pressure on themselves to do it all.”
Not only is it okay to ask for help, but it’s GOOD to ask for help. Asking for help gives parents more opportunity for self-care, and getting other family members or close friends involved is beneficial for kids, too.
“When our children form strong relationships with extended family or other trusted adults, it expands their support network and shows them they can rely on others for support too. The reality is that as kids get older, they may not want to open up to their parents about issues they’re experiencing. So having others they know they can talk to is important.”
5. Emotion coaching
Emotion coaching from parents helps children to build emotional intelligence – the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions.
Children with emotional intelligence are less likely to develop mental health concerns as they grow older, and they have the resilience and skillset to better deal with setbacks or challenges.
“Emotion coaching involves acknowledging our children’s feelings when they feel them. Parents need time and awareness to provide emotion coaching to their children,” says Julia and Lisa.
The Gottman Institute tells us that there are five key steps for emotion coaching:
- Being aware of your child’s emotions
- Recognising your child’s expression of emotion as an opportunity for learning
- Listening with empathy and validating their feelings
- Labelling emotions with words to help your child identify emotions
- Setting limits with the help you provide - giving your child the opportunity to solve problems or learn to deal with challenging situations, so they can build skills and resilience.
It takes a lot of time, patience and commitment to build strong family relationships. But together, we can support families – both our own and others – in order to create resilient and thriving communities.
Each year in May, at CatholicCare Victoria we invite schools, families, and communities to join us in celebrating and strengthening families during Family Week.
To register for Family Week 9-15 May 2022 and receive your free school resource pack, click the link below!
Register for Family Week
Want to learn more about building strong family relationships? Discover our parenting workshops or programs here.
We’re offering several free workshops for parents and carers in Bendigo – learn more and book below!
Boys Brains workshop Knowing Your Teen workshop
Liz Gellel | Marketing Coordinator – Digital Lead
Julia Feiss | Family Relationship Practitioner
Lisa Castles | Family Relationship Practitioner