Children Heal in Healthy Families

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

When parents decide to build their family they don’t want to believe that their child may in up with developmental or special needs that require a lot of time, commitment and yes, money. They are dreaming of the perfect family, playing and enjoying warm, cuddly time together. There is nothing wrong with that but not every dream turns out that way. 

Many families choose to build their family through adoption or end up taking care of a relatives child due to many misfortunes and circumstances. Consequently, many children come with a history of trauma and loss. The dream family is still possible but it must be modified and made more realistic. You have to say goodbye to the old dream to allow room for the new one to unfold.

Research and common experiences proves that children can heal in a healthy family. A child needs a secure attachment relationships in order to maximize all the areas of their lives, socially, physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually. 

Because many children comes from insecure attachment relationships, they don’t always know what it means to be in a health family. Their special needs may be based on survival in high stress family situations. Their “abnormal behaviors” in a normal family were perfectly “normal” in their abnormal situations before entering the new home. A bit of rehabilitation is necessary to help them make the internal and external adjustments. 

Trauma situations impact the children development. This includes their brain development as well. The child needs to adapt to overwhelming and hostile environments and can create a position of offensive behaviors that don’t want to submit to parental controls. An internal model develops that believes the world and caregivers cannot be trusted. 

Fortunately, the same brain that adapted to stressful circumstances can re-adapt to calm living environments. This happens over time, sometimes quickly and sometimes not so quickly. This is challenging for parents to understand and cope. 

The brain must be re-activated to change. Experience dictates form and function when it comes to brain adaptation. New, positive experiences that happen repeatedly will open up new neuronal brain growth that allows for a feelings safety and security to settle in. Once this happens, parents can begin to enjoy that “dream family” once again. 

Dream Parenting Project: I Choose You

All families have disagreements and fights. It is easy to get into polar opposition toward one another and the result can be feelings of hurt and loss. How do you build a dream family when these painful elements exist? You make a choice! You choose one another despite the hurts. Of course, you work to change that negative atmosphere and you must have boundaries and even consequences for certain behaviors but you still make a choice to connect. Take a moment today to tell a family member: “I choose you.” If it is not safe to say it aloud, at least, say it to yourself when you are thinking about that person and how they wronged you. Again, set good boundaries and make positive, safe behavioral choices but make a choice to connect by taking your will to task and declaring: “I choose you." 

Dreaming is difficult when we have had disappointments. We can give up on our dreams for a healthier, happier family because it hurts too much to put our hearts out there again. Living without a dream is a dry, empty place to be as well. What is the answer? Must you take a risk again and be hurt again? That might be the answer for some but not for others. Take a risk to look at the dream itself. What was it that birthed it in the first place? How can you take parts of it and pursue hope in that direction if you feel the direction you have been going is shut? Who can be your audience of appreciation for your efforts and support you in your new journey? Maybe a new dream needs birthing that meets the underlying need of the original dream. The point is, don’t give up dreaming just because one dream, for your family, has stopped. Mourn the loss of it but allow life to bring you a new one…

(via Amazon.com: 101 Parenting Tools: Building the Family of Your Dreams eBook: Ronald Huxley: Kindle Store)

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Dream Parenting: Winning the Battle

You don’t have to win every battle with your child. You don’t have to be a perfect parent. Some days are going to be sweet one’s, with lots of cuddling, peaceful interactions and other days are going to be more chaotic and bumpy. It is important that parents learn how to ride these ups and downs and now that they are still headed in the right direction. if today was a bad day, than you get to have another day. Make tomorrow different. If tomorrow is bad too, look forward to the day after than and so on…

You were there to write the first chapter of your child’s life and you get to help write the next one until the day they start writing their own chapters. You are never totally powerless and no mistake cannot be forgiven and un-reconciled. It make take a while but time really is on your side and it can heal the most grievous hurts. Use this to your parenting advantage. 

Action Parenting Tool: Don’t focus on today’s problem. Visualize how you want tomorrow to look and start working toward it. Be OK with small adjustments until you achieve the family you dreamed about. 

The Ripples of Change in Your Family

There might be days where you wish you didn’t have to get up in the morning to face your family and the day. Those are difficult moments in life, truly dark days of parenting. Use those transitional moments from sleep to wake to be thankful for your family members. It may take some effort but practice gratitude to help you form new attitudes that lead to higher emotional altitudes.

Consider that to have the family of your dreams you need a family. Change doesn’t happen in isolation. It occurs through the rub of relationships and the repairing of ruptures in our daily interactions. You want to partner with your partner and children today. You need them and they need you even if they do not recognize this reality. A family is a system and like a pebble tossed into a pond, ripples move outward stirring the entire pond. Toss that pebble of thankfulness today and watch how the ripples from it start to create change.

Glancing at your problems

Sometimes the problems we experience in our family relationships can feel so large that we simple stare transfixed at them. It can overwhelm us and cause us to give up hope. We may resign ourselves to the idea that we cannot over come them and this is the way our family will always be…

The unfortunately result of this immobilization is that we often believe the lie that other people (or ourselves) are the problem. I am fond of quoting a line from Narrative Therapy that goes: “The person is not the problem. The problem is the problem." 

It is only when we partner together, against the problem, externalizing it from our person that we are able to overcome that problem. Blaming one another as bad, damaged, or toxic only intensifies shame and keeps us stuck. I am not saying that people don’t make bad choices. We all say things and do things we wish we hadn’t done that can have destructive consequences on our families. The point here is that if we are to have the dream family we deserve to have, we have to work together against the problem. 

Instead of staring at the problem, try "gazing” at your loved one and only “glancing” at the problem. It is still there but it is not where your attention needs to be glued to. Reconnect with your family, work together against the problem and start making changes, however small that will restore relationships and rebuild connections. 

Be Thankful for Your Family Today!

It is easy to focus on the negative behaviors and personality traits of your most intimate of relationships. While these people are the ones you most care about, they are also the ones who may have hurt you or disappointed you the most too. 

As you re-structure your relationship start by listing 5 things you are thankful for with each person in your life. It will help you address their strengths and it will open you up to more possibilities for hope. 

Consider “thankful” to be your new password to your new dreams for your family. 

12 New Year’s Resolutions for Happier Families

As I wrote around this time a year ago, I love making New Year’s resolutions. For me, it’s a moment to take stock of where I am, and where I want to be, and of all the things I’ve said I hoped to do and have or haven’t done — and why. The resolutions I fail at are always the ones I didn’t really want to keep.

This year, for the first time, I hope to gather my family and persuade them to talk about what we did and didn’t do well as a family this year, and to make a family resolution: Who do we want to be together in 2013? (My husband will say that he wants us to be a family that does not make New Year’s resolutions.)

In that spirit, I asked authors I admire to offer one single resolution to help shape a happier family life in the year ahead.


Brené Brown, author of “Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection”: One intention our family is setting for 2013 is to make more art. It doesn’t matter if it’s more photography, more painting, experimenting in the kitchen, or building the LEGO Death Star (which is our family project right now). I want to create together. It keeps us connected and spiritually grounded.

Andrew and Caitlin Friedman, authors of “Family, Inc.: Take a meeting with your partner or family. Spending just 30 minutes a week on our to-do list, schedule and brainstorming bigger decisions really helped us take control of the chaos that is working parenthood.

Po Bronson, co-author of “NurtureShock” and the forthcoming “Top Dog” (January 2013): Our resolution in our family is pretty simple: argue less, talk more. Even though in “NurtureShock” we wrote that arguing is the opposite of lying, and it is, there’s a lot of arguing that’s just about arguing, and we hope for less of it.

Ashley Merryman, co-author of “NurtureShock” and the forthcoming “Top Dog” (January 2013): This year, I want to sit less. You can read that as “need to exercise” – true enough – but sitting also means I’m spending too much time online, watching too much TV, and so on. Instead, I want to do more meaningful things with people I care about.

Bruce Feiler, “This Life” columnist for Sunday Styles and author of “Walking the Bible”, “Abraham” and “The Secrets of Happy Families” (coming in February): Bribe more creatively (fewer direct rewards for good behavior; more unanticipated praise and surprise adventures). Celebrate more fully (worry less about bad moments; make more of the good). Play more often.

Madeline Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well”: I resolve to lead with my ears and not my mouth. I’ve yet to meet a child who feels like they’ve been listened to too much.

Asha Dornfest, founder of Parent Hacks and co-author of “Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less”: Embrace the idea of course correction. When faced with a parenting decision, briefly survey your options then make the best choice you can, knowing you can recalculate your route to the destination as the situation — and your family — changes.

Christine Koh, founder of Boston Mamas and co-author of “Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less”: Strive for a less frantic family calendar in 2013 by finding your “Goldilocks level of busy.” Review the last couple of months of your family calendar and identify how many events or activities made your weeks feel too crazy, too slow or just right. Shoot for the “just right” number each week.

Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home”: It’s easy to fall into the bad habit of barely looking up from games, homework, books or devices when family members come and go. For that reason, in my family, we made a group resolution to “give warm greetings and farewells.” This habit is surprisingly easy to acquire — it doesn’t take any extra time, energy or money — and it makes a real difference to the atmosphere of home.

Rivka Caroline, author of “From Frazzled to Focused” (@SoBeOrganized): Keep adding to your “to-don’t” list. As frustrating as it is, there just isn’t time for everything. Every “to-don’t” makes room for a “to-do.”

Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend”: Think about how you want to spend your downtime. Weekends, evenings and vacations can be opportunities for adventure, but we often lose them in front of the TV because we fail to plan. In 2013, make a bucket list of the fun you want to have as a family — then get those ideas on the calendar.

Michelle Cove, author of “I Love Mondays, and Other Confessions from Devoted Working Moms”: The next time you’re about to apologize to anyone — children, colleagues — ask yourself if you’ve really done anything wrong. Too often, we moms apologize by default.

Follow KJ Dell’Antonia on Twitter at @KJDellAntonia or find her on Facebook and Google

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