February is notably the time of year when the grey skies are brightened with Valentines, gifts and family favorite traditions. If I asked the question “where did you learn about what love looks like?” would you have an answer? Love will look different for all of us, but the core value of being loved, and respected starts very early in our lives. Some children have it modeled for them, so it’s easy to follow the example that is set before them. Others may not have the close example, but can reach out to their extended family, family community or other caring adults in their lives. Love changes through seasons in life, but there are some core traits that are present. Following are some traits for a strong family example from the University of Delaware.
Open lines of communication -- where all family members feel heard and respected. One of the best ways to strengthen your family is to increase your listening skills and those of other family members. Until we can hear each other, we cannot build strong relationships. Give the person your full attention, turn off the TV or put down what you are doing.
Strong families allow all family members -- no matter how young or small -- to talk about their thoughts and feelings. This does not mean that members are not respectful of one another, but rather that feelings and ideas are respected.
Everyone should be expected to express themselves in appropriate ways -- such as with ― "I" messages. When people feel heard and respected, they feel better about themselves, are more open to solving problems, and are more likely to allow others to express themselves.
Family rituals can offer a set time for families to get together and give each other the attention needed. A family ritual is simply a time that is set aside on a regular basis for a family to get together. This can mean having dinner together, celebrating a holiday together, going to church together, or going for a walk together. It is important that the family ritual be predictable and that other activities are not allowed to upset it.
Family rituals help define who we are as a family. Knowing that the family will have time together can help us deal with those times when we are apart. Even though parents may work, children can know that each evening, each weekend (or whenever works for your family) they will have some ― "special time" with you.
Every child is special and every child needs some special time when he can have his parent all to himself. Giving your child some "special time" helps develop a close relationship with your child. If you can make it a predictable ritual, your child can depend on it — and look forward to this time with you. Be sure that this "special time" is not easily interrupted by other activities. For example, don’t answer the phone during this time. Allow your child to help you decide how to spend this time. You could read books, sing songs, go for a walk, play a game -- or whatever your child enjoys.
Although setting aside time with your child is important, also look for small moments that you can use to connect with your child. Researchers say that spending frequent, brief amounts of time (as little as 1-2 minutes) involved in child-preferred activities is one of the most powerful things parents can do. You can make up stories together while doing chores, talk about concerns while on the way to the grocery store, read a book together while waiting for dinner to finish. We often think we have to wait for our "special time" but all these small moments help us stay connected in between the more scheduled times.
Strong families handle their conflict fairly. All families have conflict – it’s a natural part of human relationships. Strong families are able to work through things they disagree about by focusing on the problems, rather than by "tearing each other down.
Helping our children understand the foundation of love can begin with some of these core traits. As they grow and observe these traits, love of family and friends will become stronger with each experience.
Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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