by Bette Levy Alkazian
Raising a family is like coaching a sports team. We want to impart the importance of working together, we want to create a culture of togetherness, we want to be there for each other through thick and thin and most of all, we want to be a winning team. So, get your family in a huddle, get your clipboard out and talk team strategy…it might need some adjustment.
We can all envision a championship football team who has just won the Super Bowl. So, what does that look like for a family? Do you have what it takes to bring home the win?
As parents we need to impart our values and teach our kids how to be a member of Team (insert your last name here)! My family is Team Alkazian! Ok, I know it sounds hokey. You don’t actually have to use the words if it seems silly to you, but just keep in the back of your mind the values that you want to teach your kids. Just like an athlete needs to understand the fundamentals of his sport, we need to teach our kids our values – the fundamentals of the family.
When the going gets tough, you want your kids to turn to you. When they need something, you want your kids to ask you first. When they aren’t sure how to go about handling a situation you want them to look to your values first – not outside the family.
An important component necessary for your kids to turn toward your family for guidance is safety. It is this feeling of safety that will help them to come to you in times of trouble. They need to feel as though they will be accepted no matter what they say or do. They need to know that you will be there for them and that they can trust that you always have their back.
When Your Marriage Affects the Whole Team
One of the most important ways that kids feel safe is when Mom and Dad’s relationship is on solid ground. When Mom and Dad are good, the kids are good. The foundation of the family is based on the strength of your marriage. Kids don’t need to worry about the troubles you might be having behind closed doors. If things aren’t going well…they know. Little eyes and ears are everywhere.
After even a minor disagreement, my daughter would ask, “Are you and Daddy getting divorced?” She knew other kids’ parents who divorced and she often worried about us – thinking that if we aren’t solid, everything would come crashing down. Learning to fight fair and to remain respectful through disagreements is so important. If you find yourselves fighting in a way that is hurtful or does damage to the relationship, get some guidance on healthy and respectful fighting. Seek out some marriage counseling to stop the damage and preserve the relationship that your kids need you to take good care of. They are learning how to disagree and how to work things out through your example.
The next fundamental in the game plan of the family, is unconditional love. When a child knows she is loved, she feels safe to test the limits and figure out who she is in the context of the family and the context of her greater social group.
Another component of creating your solid team is setting firm, consistent limits and giving kids a sense of responsibility and ownership in the family. Doing chores and being helpful around the house makes kids feel a part of the home and the running of the home. That contributes to the feeling of being a part of the team/family.
Giving kids good, firm limits teaches kids their appropriate place in the family and how much space they should take up in the world. Kids who are over-indulged, who are given too many choices and who have too much power are frightened, anxious and act out in an effort to get their parents to take back their power.
Envision your child at each age. At birth their shoulders can’t handle any more than eating, sleeping and pooping. That’s it! As they get older, they can handle a little more, a little more, and a little more. Eventually, our goal is to have a 16-year old who can handle driving a lethal weapon, rising to that enormous responsibility and knowing that the consequences of their actions and choices are in their hands.
About Bette Levy Alkazian
Beth Levy Alkazian, LMFT, a marriage and family psychologist, parenting coach and speaker, was one of the seven finalists out of 15,000+ applicants to become Good Morning America’s Advice Guru. She is the author of Parenting Backwards. Learn more about Bette at www.BalancedParenting.com.