As the mom of a toddler or preschool-aged child, you probably have moments of worry where you ask yourself if you are doing this right. You may think about nutritional choices, preschool and the effects of those oh-so-annoying kids’ television shows, but sometimes, family interactions are what affect kids the most. Because your family is the first social setting your child will see, your family’s dynamics can set up your child for success or failure.
Every mother knows that the “perfect family” does not exist — even though you probably strive for it — and for good reason. Parents who give their children a balance of gentle guidance, age-appropriate discipline, love and support usually have well-behaved kids. Young children who grow up with supportive parents are usually cooperative with peers and teachers and are able to express their feelings in healthy ways. For example, if you raise a child in a family that functions well, she may learn to talk out her problems instead of resorting to physical aggression, when she is upset.
If your child grows up in a home where she witnesses domestic violence, physical abuse or does not have her physical and emotional needs met, this will usually lead to behavioral problems. Help Guide authors Melinda Smith and Jeanne Segal explain that it is “easy to say that only ‘bad people’ abuse their children.” However, Smith and Segal go on to explain that the issue is “not always so black and white” and that “not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don’t know any other way to parent.” That said, if your young child is growing up in an environment that is not always stable or safe, he might be have problems interacting with peers, and he might bet scared or become withdrawn. He may have difficulty managing his anger, aggression, frustration and sadness.
If you have an enmeshed family, you might find yourself becoming involved in every aspect of your toddler or preschooler’s life. Although most mothers know that it is essential to be involved in a young child’s life, even toddlers and preschoolers need some freedom to learn problem solving skills and appropriate behaviors. Family Education explains that an “enmeshed mother jumps in to arbitrate, reason with the kids, and maybe tells them to be quiet. Ten minutes later the kids are at it again.” In other words, let your child fight her own battles from time to time. Getting involved in every preschool argument might actually do your child more harm than good.
If you live in a household where a family member abuses drugs or alcohol, this abuse can harm your child in serious ways, even if the child rarely sees the substance abuse first hand. Some behaviors you might see in addictive families are a lot like those in abusive or negligent families. For example, if you or the child’s other parent struggles with addiction, your toddler or preschooler might have trouble developing a strong bond with you. Additionally, Lindsey Capaldi of Providence College explains that children of substance abusers become used to living in an “unpredictable” home. Your young child needs “feeling of security and consistency” to learn good behavior and social skills, she explains.