Why family relationships are important
Good family relationships are enjoyable for their own sake – it just feels good to be part of a warm and loving family.
But good family relationships are important for lots of other reasons too. They:
- make children feel secure and loved, which helps their brains develop
- can help to overcome difficulties with children’s eating, sleeping, learning and behaviour
- make it easier for your family to solve problems and resolve conflict
- help you and your children respect differences of opinion as your children develop more independence
- give children the skills they need to build healthy relationships of their own.
This is why it’s always worth looking at the relationships you share with your children and other family members, and thinking about how you can improve them.
As a parent, you’re doing the best you can for your children, probably while you’re juggling work, friends, household management and more. But even for the busiest of parents, there are plenty of easy things you can do to develop good family relationships.
Quality time and family relationships
Quality family time can happen anywhere. It’s about making the most of the time you spend together. Here are some ways you can make quality time happen in your family:
- Use everyday time together to talk and share a laugh. For example, family meals and car travel can be great times to catch up on the day.
- Have one-on-one chats with each family member to strengthen individual relationships. It can just be five minutes before each child goes to bed.
- Set aside time with your partner, if you have one. It can be a good idea to explain to your children that it’s good for your relationship with your partner to have this quality time together.
- Do regular, fun things together as a family. This can be as simple as a family soccer game at the local park on Saturdays, or a family board games night each week.
- Make decisions together about what to do for special events like birthdays. Even young children can be part of these decisions.
Positive communication and family relationships
Positive communication is about making the time to listen to each other, listening without judgment, and being open to expressing your own thoughts and feelings. When you have positive communication in your family, it helps everybody feel understood, respected and valued, and this strengthens your relationships.
Try these positive communication ideas to strengthen your family relationships:
- When your child or partner wants to talk, stop what you’re doing and listen with full attention. Give people time to express their points of view or feelings. But sometimes you might have to respect their need not to talk – especially if they’re teenagers.
- Be open to talking about difficult things – like admitting to mistakes – and all kinds of feelings, including anger, joy, frustration, fear and anxiety. Just remember that talking about feeling angry is different from getting angry, though.
- Be ready for spontaneous conversations. For example, younger children often like to talk through their feelings when they’re in the bath or as they’re getting into bed.
- Plan for difficult conversations, especially with teenagers. For example, sex, drugs, alcohol, academic difficulties and money are topics that families can find difficult to talk about. It helps to think through your feelings and values before these topics come up.
- Encourage your children and partner with praise. For example, ‘It’s a big help when you bring the bins in without being asked, Leo. Thanks!’.
- Show appreciation, love and encouragement through words and affection. This can be as simple as saying ‘I love you’ to your children each night when they go to bed.
Positive non-verbal communication
Not all communication happens in words, so it’s important to pay attention to the feelings that your children and partner express non-verbally. For example, your teenage child might not want to talk to you but might still come looking for the comfort of cuddles sometimes!
It’s also important to be aware of the non-verbal messages you send. For example, hugs, kisses and eye contact send the message that you want to be close to your child. But a grumpy tone of voice or a frown when you’re doing something together might send the message that you don’t want to be there.
Teamwork and family relationships
When your family is working as a team, everyone feels supported and able to contribute. It’s easier to work as a team when everyone understands where they stand, so it helps to have clear expectations, limits and boundaries.
You can encourage teamwork in some of these ways:
- Share household chores. Even very young children like the feeling of belonging that comes from making a contribution – sometimes, at least!
- Include children in decisions about things like family activities, rules and holidays. Give everyone – including young children – a chance to have their say. Family meetings can be a good way to do this.
- Let children make some of their own decisions. The decisions you allow will depend on your children’s abilities and maturity, and the boundaries you’ve set. For example, you might let your 12-year-old child decide whether to walk home from school or ride his bike.
- Create family rules that state clearly how your family wants to look after and treat its members. For example, ‘In our family we speak respectfully to each other’. Rules like this help everyone get along better, and make family life more peaceful.
- Work together to solve problems. This involves listening and thinking calmly, considering options, respecting other people’s opinions, finding constructive solutions, and working towards compromises.
Appreciation for each other and family relationships
Valuing each other is at the heart of good family relationships. Here are some ways you might be able to do this:
- Take an interest in each other’s lives. For example, make time to go to each other’s sporting events, drama performances, art shows and so on.
- Include everyone in conversation when you’re talking about the day’s events. For example, ‘What was the highlight for you today, Izzy?’.
- Share family stories and memories. These can help children appreciate things that aren’t obvious, or that they’ve forgotten – for example, Mum’s sporting achievements when she was younger, or the way a big sister helped care for the youngest child after he was born.
- Acknowledge each other’s differences, talents and abilities, and use each other’s strengths. For example, if you praise and thank your teenage child for listening to a younger sibling reading, he’ll begin to see himself as helpful and caring.