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The Family's Role in a Child's Development

"The family is profoundly important to the developmental, emotional and cognitive growth of a child," says Tamara Gold, a New York psychotherapist and parenting coach. "A child will learn about relationships, manners, self-esteem, worth and loyalty, all by watching and participating in family."

Whew -- this puts a lot of pressure on families to get it right, but don't worry. You don't have to be a super parent to raise emotionally healthy kids. Every parent makes mistakes, and so does every child. Effective families learn from mistakes, work together and keep trying.

Values

A child first learns about right and wrong in the family. Modern parents face many challenges in teaching values, says Dr. Michael Osit, author "Generation Text: Raising Well-Adjusted Kids in an Age of Instant Everything" and a clinical psychologist in Warren, New Jersey. "With children as young as 3 years old using the Internet, the access to the world is unprecedented in this generation. Children are bombarded with messages that are often inconsistent with the parents' values and behavioral standards for their kids." Committed and involved parents can strengthen a child's desire to make good choices. Parents teach about values first by living those values. Children learn much more from what you do than what you say. Parents can also teach about values by sharing family stories, setting boundaries and serving others.

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Consistency and Security

"Family life is where the child spends most of his or her learning time," says Jennifer Little, an Oregon-based psychologist and teacher who works with learning-challenged students. "School counts, but home is more lasting over the years. It is where the closest relationships build and allow us to express ourselves (for good or ill). This does not mean that 'peace and harmony' need to be constant. Children need to learn about disagreements and how to handle conflict. The most important support parents can give their children is consistent structure to the daily routines of life. That structure and consistency gives the child security."

Coping Skills

"Parents model how to handle emotions when they react to their own feelings," says Heidi Smith Luedtke, a psychologist in northern Virginia and the author of "Detachment Parenting: 33 Ways to Keep Your Cool When Kids Melt Down." She advises that "parents can teach kids about emotions by giving them specific emotion words to describe their feelings. Studies show that labeling feelings with words helps to decrease distress and makes it less likely that an angry person will act on his or her anger. Words help us make the shift from reacting to responding."

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Relationships

"Families play an enormously important role in kids' social and emotional development," says Smith Luedtke. "In addition to being your child's first teacher, as a parent, you are also his personal coping consultant." Nurturing family relationships lay the foundation for all other relationships. Through these experiences, children learn to trust others and seek out friendship and comfort. These early lessons pave the way for satisfying personal relationships later.

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