Psychologically healthy families

There is at most ten minutes of interaction at any family meal

There is at most ten minutes of interaction at any family meal

I continue my focus this week on how to promote psychologically healthy families. Irish society has changed, one in four children under the age of 21 live in a family that does not have two biological parents. Caoimhe Nic Dhomhnaill, a psychology colleague and fellow member of the Psychological Society of Ireland, provides many of the following tips to promote stability, security and predictability in family structure. 

Accept the family you have

Families present as rich and varied, ranging from twosomes to threesomes to much larger groups, single parent families, step families, families with one or two gay or lesbian parents, adoptive families, foster families and reconstituted step families. It is important that this is recognised and affirmed by its family.

Embrace the changes

Family life unfolds with highs and lows, is seldom settled and yet many of us live waiting for settled times. It is this constant ebb and flow that is at the core of family life – births, deaths, illnesses, marital separation, exams, depression, anxiety, and financial stress. All too often families live a life of feeling suspended waiting for unsettled periods to settle. Embracing the ever changing scenarios is of itself settling.

do activities together

Parents may value meals together while their children or teenagers may set a higher value on a shopping or bowling trip together. Both are equally valid and may serve the intended purpose of a family activity. There are at most ten constructive minutes of interaction at any family meal while children up to the age of 10 years respond best to activity based rituals. Beyond 10 years they are inclined to be cynical of parents’ attempts to ritualise their lives.

Talk about sexuality

Sexuality should be an on-going conversation. Irish families are still inclined to pander to the notion of a once off ‘sex talk’. Instead it may be more useful to include sexuality as an on-going conversation, perhaps using TV programmes such as Modern Family which constantly stir children’s questions and curiosity about sexuality.

be ‘co-pilot’ to your teen

Contrary to common perceptions, many teenagers remain close to their parents and their conflicts are around minor issues. Adolescence is a natural passage. Maturation is its only cure.

Bear in mind that sometimes as parents we may have conflicting sets of values, inheriting a value of harmony and closeness or parental control, and yet rearing our children to be independent-minded and assertive. It is important that families prioritise their values as it is not possible to have a harmonious family life with assertive teenagers.

keep a flexible mind

Family conflict can arise from someone having a fixed mind about how family relationships should be, and not acknowledging disappointment when this is unfulfilled. When we have a flexible mind we are more likely to be easier to live with and open to being surprised and delighted.

Conflict is particularly prevalent when parents live apart and it is important to know that children can healthiy adjust to parental separation, but seldom to conflict, which has consequences that seep into their adult relationships. A win:win in communication is when the interests of the children are put first.

Families are like gardens, they can be too groomed and perfect (lack flexibility), overgrown and unkempt (negligent) or can be nurtured.

Go nurture.




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