Feb 182014

Family playing board game at home

By Marie Pinette, LMFT
Clinton Youth & Family Services

One of our forefathers of Psychology, Alfred Adler, emphasized human nature’s need to have a sense of belonging and to feel significant.  According to Maslow, another great pioneer in the field, experiencing a sense of belonging is essential before a healthy sense of self-esteem can be developed.

In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, we often underestimate the power we have in shaping our children’s lives and influencing who they will choose to be. Ideally, each child’s first experience with being an important part of something important is in his or her family.  But before we get to suggestions on how to amplify this experience for children and teens, let’s first take a look at exactly what self-esteem is.   In my career as a Family Therapist, this is my best working definition of Self Esteem:

  • I am good (and I know why)
  • I am an important part of something good; I belong
  • I can make good choices

So how do we help our children and teens develop a strong sense of self?

This year our theme at Clinton Youth and Family Services is: Strengthening Family Identity & Making Positive Family Connections.

Developing a Strong Family Identity

  • It maximizes your  influence as a parent
  • It sets the stage for the development of a strong self esteem
  • It serves as the foundation/blueprint for your child’s choice in values, their social skills, problem solving skills, and ability to manage feelings
  • For many youth, it can also play a critical role in reducing overall anxiety

To a certain degree it is developmentally appropriate for teens to shift toward an emphasis on friends and spend more time being social with their peers.  However, it is important to find ways for your family to connect without being overbearing or interfering with this natural social emotional growth.

In order to foster a strong family identity, two elements are needed: (1) Time together and (2) Family rituals.

Time together:  You can’t develop a strong sense of family identity if you don’t spend time together as a family. As we get busier and busier as a society, overscheduling ourselves and our children has become a trend.  Team sports and structured after school activities can also offer a positive sense of belonging, however when these activities take the place of family identity, we give our power of influence away to whoever is the leader of that activity or program.

It is important for the family to remain a consistent anchor throughout the growing years.  We live in a schedule oriented society, where we over commit ourselves and have a growing list of things we keep meaning to do. In reality, if it’s not scheduled in, it won’t happen.  For some families, regular family time might need to be an official part of the family’s calendar, where every week at a specified time, we do something together as a family and no one can schedule anything over this time.

You may encounter resistance to this concept, especially if it’s a new practice in your family.  Give them permission to not like it, but do it anyway.  You may not get appreciation for it, but the rhythm of family values and the continued messages of positive belonging (even if it’s boring to them) will play a critical role in who that young person chooses to be.

Message is that you are an essential part of this family…we can’t do this without you.

Family time should be positive, not a time where everyone unloads criticism. Turn off phones and other electronic devices.


Engaging in rituals can be very comforting and has the power to reduce anxiety.  Think about a night when there’s no time for the typical bedtime ritual.  How upset does a 6 year old become if story time doesn’t happen?  Beyond that child’s understanding, the upset isn’t just about the story. It’s about the anxiety that comes when that rhythm is broken.  Rituals communicate a deep connection with others, a common purpose, and reiterate that sense that “I am an important part of the family.”

What does it mean to be a part of your family?  What are the most important things you want to teach your children? Use cohesive language like “In this family (we include everyone).” In this family (instead of hitting, we use our words).”

Dinner together, participation in a religious community, bedtime rituals (especially for younger kids), even chores (which symbolizes each person’s importance to the family and its functioning) are all examples of common family rituals.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.  The element of fun is very powerful when it comes to strengthening bonds between participants.  It reaches people in ways that words can’t.

  • Is there a weekly TV show that the family watches together?
  • Have a regular Family Game Night
  • Once every few months, have a slumber party in the living room
  • On the 15th day of every month, make ice cream sundaes
  • Does your family have a “happy dance?”

Another great way to spend time together is to engage in a community service project together. This is a great way to teach values and find out which causes are most important to your children.

Keep an eye out for family oriented events that may be taking place in surrounding towns, whether it’s Christmas in Clinton, Families Helping Families Pancake Breakfast, Family Bingo in Westbrook, or making gingerbread houses in East Lyme.

Programs offered/sponsored through Clinton Youth and Family Services include but are not limited to:

  • Mother Daughter night about puberty/positive body image
  • Mother Daughter Self Defense class
  • Parent/ Youth Yoga class
  • Parent/ Teen Automotive Know-How
  • Parent/Teen Habitat Build
  • The Game for Eliot REACT
  • Family Olympics
  • Family Day sponsored by Clinton Park and Recreation

For more information contact Marie or Andrea at 860-669-1103

Check our website at: www.clintonyouthandfamily.org and

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