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By Owen Anderson
The late German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe declared, "He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home." The home should be a sanctuary for all who abide there. Thinking back to my college experience, I remember reading a family studies textbook in which the author paraphrased Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, in this way, "the family can be the best of human life and it can be the worst of human life." Indeed, it is in the family that we experience some of the deepest joys and greatest fulfillment. The home is a place that can refine, test and help us grow and mature in ways that provide personal satisfaction, love, security and a sense of belonging.
Unfortunately, the home can also be the worst of time for some family members. It is in the family that the ugliest side of humans also thrives. Additionally, the family can be the source of some of the deepest frustration, misery, forms of cruel abuse and exploitive behavior.
Parents have a powerful influence on the atmosphere of the home. Some argue that the great goodness and beauty found in families is available because such profound evil and ugliness is possible. This emotional intensity can gravitate to either extreme, depending on our own sense of self.
"You learn the truth about yourself in the home, and you cannot hide from the truths that you do not want to see and that you do not want to be reminded of," stated a past BYU-Idaho president.
When changes are needed the home is the ideal place to start, because the way we treat other family members is the truest view of the person we really are and the person we are becoming. It is in the home that our social exchanges shape the sense of warmth, acceptance, affirmation and belonging; or the sense of coldness, rejection, denial, insecurity that children feel and carry with them into other social relationships. Thus, a closer look at the communication used in the home would have value.
Our interactions can be divided into two broad domains, nonverbal and verbal. Nonverbal communication is made up of actions rather than words. In general, it includes facial expressions and body gestures. Feelings of pleasure, happiness, anger, disgust and sadness can be expressed with or without words, but the amount of meaning the message conveys increases significantly when the nonverbal cues are added to the spoken word. Verbal communication includes all of the positive and negative oral exchanges that take place within a given setting.
When interacting with children our actions and words combine to create an environment in which a child(s self-evaluation is favorable or unfavorable. In a family setting in which the interactions are negative children feel unworthy, unloved, insignificant, or incompetent. Here are a few examples of subtle messages that individually or collectively could have harmful outcomes.
Next, let us consider some positive characteristics that tend to have helpful outcomes.
A prominent child psychologist (Urie Bronfenbrenner) is frequently quoted for his idea that "every kid needs at least one adult who is crazy about him." A child should feel this love through our daily words and actions. A positive relational home setting is beneficial to both the parent and the child.
The positive principles outlined above provide ways for parents to communicate warmth, respect, acceptance, and empathy to children. These methods will increase the likelihood that children will view their parents as a source of comfort and encouragement. Also, the positive interaction patterns will help children to learn more about themselves and to feel good about the self they are coming to know.
Finally, as parents develop positive relational patterns with children, home will be the place where their own sense of self will be one of personal satisfaction, in which they broaden personal dignity, respect and integrity. Thus, happiness with oneself will enhance peace at home.
Owen Anderson is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho