The definition of ‘family’ is a personal one. It tends to mean the people who cared for you when you were growing up, or the people you are caring for now. However, there are many different types of families, and it is encouraging to see diversity increasingly represented in mainstream media and culture. For example, popular TV shows like Modern Family, Packed to the Rafters, and Home and Away present a wide range of different family structures and relationships that are representative of families in Australia.

A family may have one, two or more parents. It may consist of same-sex, foster or step-parents. Grandparents and other extended family members may also be part of the family unit. Parents and carers may not be biologically related to children or live with them all of the time. Cultural background can also impact on the definition of family – for example, grandparents may live with the typical nuclear family and be involved in child-rearing as a traditional way of living.

Family plays an important role in children’s development and mental health. Research has found that positive communication is central to promoting psychological health and positive family relationships, regardless of the kind of family children are raised in. You can do this by communicating with your children with warmth and care, and establishing clear and appropriate limits for their behaviour.    

Practical communication skills can help build better family relationships. In simple terms, this means everyone has a say about what is important and relevant to them and is listened to. To help your children develop positive relationships with other family members, you can set a good example by:

  • Listening to what your child is saying and showing that you are genuinely interested.
  • Tuning in to your children’s emotions and body language to get a sense of how they’re feeling about what’s happening within the family.
  • Showing respect when communicating with your child, even when you’re setting boundaries.
  • Sending clear messages – try to match what you say with what you do.

You can read further about the building blocks of family relationships.