Panhandle Perspectives - January 11, 2017

Building strong families for children

Jackie Guzman, Extension Educator, Scotts Bluff County

All families require strengthening and nurturing on a regular basis. However, in times of crisis and stress research tells us that family stress impacts even the youngest members of the family. Stress, whether it comes from family finances, a death, divorce, bullying, or what children hear in the news, can impact a child’s sense of security.

Panhandle Perspectives
Jackie Guzman

Fostering resilience in children is a common phrase these days. What does resilience mean? Resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress (as defined by the American Psychological Association).

In reality, life is full of stressors. Helping children manage stress, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, by building a strong foundation before stress or adversity strikes a family, can determine how well or quickly a child will be able to cope in difficult situations. Here are some suggestions:

1.  Build a support system. Take the time to build relationships with all members of the family. This takes time and a concerted effort by each. Focus on communicating, working together, supporting each other, celebrating accomplishments, and most importantly, spending time together. Then each family member recognizes that there is always a group of family members to support them. This may include your immediate family, extended family members or close friends that you and your children can depend upon and are willing to help ease life’s difficulties. 

2.  Maintain daily routines. For young children, especially during times of stress or change, maintaining a daily routine is important. They know that they can count on this routine and the caregivers or teachers that are engaged in their lives. It is helpful for these caregivers and teachers to be informed of the changes or anxiety a child maybe experiencing in order to help meet the child’s needs.

3.  Be Positive and optimistic. If you can always find the positive in a situation, your child too will look for the positive in life’s ups and downs. This helps children recognize that this is life and there will always be setbacks, but they can be overcome together as a family. Remember that laughter too helps reduce stress and helps see the bright side of life. Seeing a difficult situation arise as a family and being optimistic helps children learn that this too shall pass and we will make it through as a family.

4.  Accept change. Times of divorce or separation can cause great stress or even cause children to experience some stages of grief. It is important for parents to be able to recognize the symptoms. First reassure children that this is not their fault and that sometimes things change. However, your love for them will not change and will continue. Most important is to remember that regardless of the change children need both parents involved in the lives of their children as your family makes this transition.

5.  Have fun. Taking time to do something fun as a family will help everyone de-stress and get their minds on something else. By doing this parents model for children how to cope. Having fun doesn’t have to cost money (sometimes finances are a stressor). Take time to play a board game, go for a walk, have a picnic, just do something that gets the family laughing and enjoying each other.

6.  Serve others. Participating in some type of community service or service to others as a family for someone less fortunate helps put things into perspective. 

Many researchers have found how important a network of loved ones and friends can be to our well-being. Carolyn Attneave, a family therapist and psychologist, cited a classic University of Washington study that found patients actually lived longer if they had lots of loved ones and friends. Individuals who had at least 16 people with whom they related in their social network survived and flourished while on kidney dialysis.  But, “those persons with the best physical prognosis in the world who were apparently healthy specimens but did not have outside resources died within a year.  They died despite the doctors saying, ‘This is a good risk.’”

By reaching out, we are giving each other, literally, the gift of life, and our morale increases. We learn new ways of managing difficulties in life from each other. We invest enjoyable time with each other.  We enhance our personal feelings of self-esteem and confidence.

You always get back what you give, and if you really think about it, you probably get back a lot more. (Excerpt from Creating a Strong Family Commitment: The Importance of Fostering Community; UNL NebGuide G1839)