Maintaining Family Relationships  |  Supporting Children

Part 2: Creating Supportive Environments For Children, Youth And Families

DR MONIA M. FITZGERALD & DR KIMBERLY SHIPMAN

21 October 2022  |   6 min read

Caregivers can implement specific supports and strategies to create a warm, supportive emotional climate within their families. Emotional climate relates to the mood or emotional conditions of a family and how family members feel when they are together and/or at home. It may change from day-to-day but also has some stable characteristics, like a weather pattern or climate. For example, even though Singapore has some rainy days and enjoys cooler temperatures occasionally, it is generally sunny and hot.

Healthy Emotional Climates:

  • Balance warmth, support, and acceptance
  • Have clear structure, rules, and expectations
  • Place manageable emotional demands on children
  • Include support for children in times of emotional distress
  • Have models for managing emotions in healthy ways

Creating warm, supportive emotional-climates within families can have a powerful effect on parent-child connection as well as child social and emotional skills, mental/behavioral health, and overall adjustment. A supportive emotional climate can also help to create ease, and reduce stress and challenges in daily parenting activities. Often the way we structure our environment and small changes in how we move through our daily activities can make a big difference in the emotional climate of our family.

The following strategies can help caregivers to support the emotional climate that they want by making small changes that can be made one at a time. These strategies increase consistency and predictability for children and youth, ease challenges around times of transition, and create ongoing opportunities for connection. Most importantly they create a sense of safety and security within the parent-child relationship. These tips are helpful for all children and youth but particularly important for children and youth exposed to violence and/or trauma, whom often lack the experience of a safe warm “home base” or a sense of control over their environment.

First, let’s look at Routines and Rituals:

Take a moment to think about a typical day in your home. Ask yourself, what routines or rituals do you have as a family? Are there particular routines or rituals that seem to be important and/or work well? How about any that seem to be sticking points or are difficult? Are there places that a routine or ritual may be helpful? Pay particular attention to times of transitions that may be challenging – this is often a good place to try out a new routine or ritual.

Next, let’s focus on rhythm:

Take a moment to jot down a few words to describe your family rhythm. Now think about rhythm for your children and jot down a few words to describe this. What seems to be important and/or works well? How about any that seem to be sticking points or are difficult? Given your reflection about rhythm in your home, what might be one place to start either implementing something different, something new, or doing more of something that is working well?

A sense of safety and security is so crucial in helping families regain a sense of control, predictability, consistency and connection even when so much is out of our control.

These tips when combined with supportive emotion communication strategies (e.g., listening to learn more, labeling and validation feelings) give caregivers the tools needed to creative warm, supportive emotional climate in the family, a sense of safety and security, and connection in the parent-child relationship. This is so crucial in helping families regain a sense of control, predictability, consistency and connection even when so much is out of our control.

A sense of safety and security is so crucial in helping families regain a sense of control, predictability, consistency and connection even when so much is out of our control.

No matter how well we implement these strategies, we will still have some difficult moments or interactions as these are a normal part of parenting. When this happens, take a moment to tune into yourself using the Hand-to-Heart 3 steps:

1. Tune In (placing hand to heart) and silently ask “What am I feeling?”, “What do I need?” Take a few breaths here and tune in. This is a gesture of self-compassion and nurturance.

2. Reach Out (holding hands out with palms up) and silently ask self, “How is my child feeling?” “What is their experience and perspective?” “What are their needs?”

3. Connect (placing hands together) and silently ask self, “How does it feel when we are in connection?” “How can I meet my own needs and my child’s needs?”, “How can I connect and build our relationship?”

… before circling back to talk with your child. Remember that the most important thing you can do is share your supportive presence with your child.

Authors:
Monica M. Fitzgerald, Ph.D.
Kimberly Shipman, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologists & Developers of Let’s Connect®

Read Part 1: Trauma-Responsive Parenting for tips on how to help your child through tough times.

For more information about Trauma-Responsive parenting and Let’s Connect®, visit our websites:
Let’sConnect.org
Center for Resilience + Well-Being
Let’s Connect-CRW

The authors are Clinical Psychologists at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Developers of Let’s Connect®. This article is contributed by KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. It was first published on Trauma Network for Children’s Quick Bytes Newsletter and republished with permission.

The Stay Prepared – Trauma Network for Children (TNC) programme is a joint collaboration between KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and Temasek Foundation. It aims to enhance the psychosocial capability of the Singapore community to support children and youth after crises or traumatic events. For more resources, visit the Trauma Network for Children Website at www.childtraumanetwork.sg.