Creating a Healthy Family Environment

  • The adults set the tone in terms of everyone being treated with love and respect. The needs of the children come first, though it is important for the adults to also take care of themselves and each other.
  • Children who are showing signs of distress with their emotions or behavior should get prompt medical and psychological evaluation. This especially applies to children who have experienced significant losses, disruptions or traumas.
  • In blended families, both parents assume responsibility for the physical and emotional well-being of all of the children. Where there is a strained or distant relationship between parent and step-children, it is the adult’s responsibility to figure out how to improve it.
  • Parents must always treat the children kindly and gently, and should protect them from any adult in a position of authority who does not also do so. This applies equally to male and female children.
  • Parents need to remember that children have very little power or control over their lives, and it is crucial to avoid making them feel more helpless or vulnerable than they already do.
  • Discipline should be carefully managed so it does not become a negative or traumatic aspect of family life. Criticism should be kept to a minimum, and the focus should be on “catching the child being good”. Mainstream educators and psychologists agree that physical discipline is unnecessary and often harmful. It makes children feel fearful and angry, helpless and demeaned – which can cause further behavioral/adjustment problems, often into adult life. “Spanking” is actually hitting, which teaches children to be aggressive and can put them at risk for abusive relationships when they get older. Physical discipline damages a lot of parent-child relationships and is not worth whatever short-term control it provides (see Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon). When the child gets older/bigger, this type of parental power runs out and then it’s too late to create internal motivation to be good. Finally, it is too easy for physical discipline to escalate into physical abuse. (Hitting a child with one’s fist or with objects like a belt is abusive, even if marks are not left to make it a reportable offense.)
  • Parents with anger problems should get professional help so that their spouses and children will not be negatively affected. Some signs of an anger problem include verbal abuse (yelling, name-calling, put-downs), rageful outbursts or tantrums, property damage, aggressive driving which scares or endangers others in the car, and physical aggression including pushing or inappropriate restraint.
  • Verbal or physical aggression under the guise of play or humor makes children feel unsafe and creates a negative family environment
  • Children should not be exposed to adult sexuality (including pornography, graphic movies or television) and must be protected from anyone who tries to sexualize them.
  • Parents should not drink large quantities of alcohol around their children, and should be aware that intoxication makes them unfit for caring for & supervising children. It is not okay for a parent who has been drinking to drive children, even short distances. Parents who cannot keep their alcohol intake to low-moderate levels should seek professional help.
  • Parents with their own trauma histories should be aware of the potential for certain issues to play out in their families and affect their children. Parents in this situation can minimize this likelihood by pursuing their own emotional recovery process. Some of the issues to be addressed include: trust, safety, establishing healthy boundaries (physical, emotional, sexual, financial), management of anger and other strong emotions, communication and self-esteem.