"How can we all get along together?" This phrase will resonate with many parents, children and young adults, possibly followed by feelings of frustration and hopelessness.
Over the last fifty years, the concept of what makes up a family has changed dramatically. "Modern families" can now consist of a single parent, same sex parents, re-partnered parents, foster parents, grandparents parenting grandchildren... and so on. And today's modern families' can encounter some extra challenges.
Changes in family arrangements can take some getting used to for everyone and especially children and young people. There are new relationships to negotiate and family roles and responsibilities can change overnight. A child can go from being the youngest in a family to the oldest.
Three top tips:
- Fostering a sense of belonging in new modern families will help children and young people settle better. Schedule in some time to spend together as a family. Once a week is good. This can be as simple as going to the supermarket together and making some of the decisions about meals together.
- Look for the positive behind unwanted behaviour. What is trying to be communicated by this child or young person? For example, maybe not talking is an attempt by a young person to allow their parent more space; or perhaps they want their grandparent to know that they are being respectful and listening to them.
- Let significant people involved in the child's life know that the family arrangement has changed, and that this could be a shaky time for the child/young person. It's very helpful if adults let the school know and can describe any current or potential impacts on behaviour. This means that teachers, school counsellors and social workers can keep an eye out for that young person knowing that school may be the only stable and known environment for them right now.
What can help?
Counselling, and in particular Family Therapy, can offer support to new modern families through strengthening the relationships. By coming together to see a family therapist, patterns of behaviour between members of these new families become apparent. New understanding of these dynamics can offer different, and often more positive meaning, to behaviour. Family strengths can be seen; new communication skills (amongst others) are learned; and these new skills assist with building more positive relationships to manage the challenge of the new modern family dynamic.
All families have strengths, things that they know or do well, and Family Therapy acknowledges these. The focus is not on an individual (like a young person) rather the focus is on how this family "relates." Having people aware of this focus can alleviate anxiety, particularly where vulnerability may be experienced by some members i.e "Am I the problem?"
The on-going positive impact on family relationships through learning new ways to relate is what counselling is all about.
Dee Gulliver is the Practice Manager at Home and Family Counselling and is an experienced Family Therapist.