Search Institute’s study, “Don’t Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America’s Effort to Help All Children Succeed,” makes the case that strengthening family relationships is a critical strategy for helping children learn and grow up successfully. Their research introduces a framework of developmental relationships, which articulates concrete actions that families can intentionally embrace and consistently practice that help children develop the character strengths they need as they grow up.
Developmental relationships are close connections through which young people develop the character strengths to discover who they are, gain the ability to shape their own lives, and learn how to interact with and contribute to others. These relationships are characterized by five essential actions, each of which is described from the perspective of a young person:
- Express Care: Show that you like me and want the best for me.
- Challenge Growth: Insist that I try to continuously improve.
- Provide Support: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
- Share Power: Hear my voice and let me share in making decisions.
- Expand Possibility: Expand my horizons and connect me to opportunities.
Every family has and can build relationships that guide children on a path of self-fulfillment and success in life. All types of families from all kinds of backgrounds can—and do—build developmental relationships.
Here are tips for you to use to help you strengthen these relationships in your family:
Tips for Expressing Care
- When you see your child for the first time in a while, ask how they are doing. Don’t, however, use the phrase as another way to say hello without expecting or wanting an answer in return. Probe for an answer, and then ask a follow-up question or make a comment that lets your child know that you really heard them.
- Focus attention on your child when he or she is talking about things that are important to them. Put away the smartphone when doing this.
- Show interest in each other’s sparks, which are deep interests or abilities that tap into your deepest passions.
- Have fun when you’re together. Smile. Laugh.
- Ask follow-up questions so both you and your child know you’re listening to each other.
- When your child tells you about something they care about ask to know more about it. Go beyond nodding or saying “great job” to ask what they are interested in or proud of.
- Find satisfaction in doing things for your child.
- Make an effort to understand your child’s point of view.
- When your child tells you that they are struggling with something, find opportunities to check in to see how things are going before they raise the issue again.
- When your child says they have a problem, try not to immediately jump to offering a solution. Focus on understanding first, and then see if your child has ideas about a solution to offer before offering your own ideas.
- Do what you say you will do with your child. When you can’t, apologize.
- Participate in your child’s imaginary world. Convey enthusiasm for the world your child has created in their head.
Stay tuned next week to learn more about ways to Challenge Growth.