Families Learn Together

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When posing for a photograph, many members of my family enjoy creating laughs by holding up “bunny ears” at some point in the session. It is not a hard stretch to expect our children to begin mimicking this behavior when posing with their friends. Why not? It elicited laughs and attention every time it was done. Family members are the front line for socialization training and support. However, imagine my daughter’s surprise many years ago when she was confronted for bullying another young party guest during a birthday party. During the guest photo, she put “bunny ears” on her newfound friend. This family taught each other that bunny ears are inappropriate and even cruel. Therefore, my daughter was being cruel.

Communication requires interpreting the environment based on shared experiences and dynamic interaction. Meaning is associated with experience. What our young children learn in our homes will be tested against what they experience as they venture into the world. How do they harmonize these experiences?

Sociologists agree that it is important to establish a communication structure in the home so your children can process encounters that conflict with their at-home socialization. Iowa State University Extension created a highly acclaimed program to build protective factors in youth ages ten to fourteen called Strengthening Families Program for Parents and Youth 10-14. This is done in seven whole family sessions by improving communication techniques between caregivers and children to help reduce the occurrence of future risky behaviors. 

According to the Strengthening Families Program 10-14 curriculum, one way to establish a communication structure in the home is to establish a routine for family meetings that works with today’s families’ busy schedules. These meetings need to be fun and important. There are many options to consider when establishing the rules of order for the meetings. Pre-consider how to get subject matter on the agenda, how to determine who speaks and when, and methods to handle disagreements that arise.

Be careful to avoid taking over an existing activity that everyone enjoys. These meetings should be a distinct and protected event. Making time for intentional communication will convey the importance of everyone’s thoughts and inputs. Don’t forget to include even the youngest family members. If they are waving goodbye, they have received socialization skills from you and will test them in the world.

My daughter came to me with tears after learning her “bunny eared” intentions were misunderstood. She wanted to make a new friend laugh and, instead, hurt her feelings. We took the opportunity to talk with her about how people and cultures are different. She decided to repair the relationship by saying she was sorry. We also talked about how it feels to be the one picked on. If one person in the group isn’t laughing, then maybe the joke isn’t funny. As my daughter grew, she continued to discuss social inconsistencies with the family, and it was always a learning experience for us all.

For information and resources on this topic, please contact Pam Kerley, the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. Pam is a trained facilitator of SFP 10-14. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H programs are available in Lee County, and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use daily to improve your life.