Children’s families are central to their healthy development. They provide the early love, stimulation and security that prepares them to enter into other relationships and other environments. Families continue to be a source of education, training, motivation and support as children develop.


In 1994, Canadian families were characterized by the following:

  • Seven and a half million children were 19 or under.
  • Eighty-one percent of families with children had one or two children.
  • Of the 537,000 lone-parent families in Canada, 84 percent of these were headed by women.
  • Forty five percent of female-led lone-parent families were living with low incomes.
  • Sixty two percent of families were "dual-earner" families.
  • Sixty one percent of all women with children under three worked outside the home.
  • It is estimated that violence occurs in over 300,000 relationships with children. (77)

Most adults have little preparation for parenting. A poll of Canadian parents by the Invest in Kids Foundation found that "while 85 percent of parents are certain babies are learning from the moment they are born, only about half of parents are certain the stimulation and nurturing they provide influences how babies and young children grow and learn socially, emotionally and intellectually." (348) At the same time the poll found that 92 percent of participants felt being a parent was the most important thing that they could do. Being prepared as a parent means knowing something about how children develop and about approaches to parenting that contribute to development.

Parenting does not happen in isolation from the broader community. Families are influenced by the cultures and settings in which they live. These can be sources of support or barriers to overcome. The broader social, economic, political and civic communities support families in their parenting role. Significant factors in determining the kind of supports available to families include:

  • financial resources
  • learning resources
  • social support.

Communities, schools, workplaces and governments are instrumental in shaping the family environment.

A family’s access to economic resources is particularly important to their capacity to provide for their children. In 1994:

  • Twenty-one percent of all Canadian children under the age of seven lived in families with incomes below the official Statistics Canada Low-Income Cut-Offs (LICO).
  • seventy three percent of single-parent families with children under the age of seven lived on incomes below the LICO. (53)

Fathers have a particularly important role to play in relation to a child's economic circumstances. Because women tend to earn less money than men and are less likely to be employed full-time, one study has concluded that "children's economic status is largely determined by their fathers. In other words, most children are poor either because their fathers earn little money or because their fathers are absent and pay little or no child support." (342)

Economic circumstances do not predict positive or negative outcomes for children. Most children from poor homes grow up as competent, well-adjusted adults and some children from economically secure homes experience negative outcomes. However, ensuring children from low income families have access to quality education, live in safe housing, have safe neighborhoods, eat healthy food, have access to recreational opportunities and have the assurance that their parents can look after them with dignity is important to their healthy development.


Children’s families are their most important influence in the early years. Parents and caregivers take care of all their babies' needs. They feed, bathe and protect them; they talk, sing and play with them; and ensure that their babies have a stimulating, safe environment to explore.

Babies are born with a unique, genetic heritage and personality, but positive experiences during the first year of life nurture their potential and place them on a healthy path for the future. The seeds for future physical, cognitive and mental health are planted in the early loving, secure and stimulating relationships within the family environment.

The chart below lists factors that influence children's healthy development in the first year of their lives.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that families can use to promote an outcome.

To return to the table, close the new window.

Physically healthy

Securely attached to parents and caregivers

Developing feelings and emotional control

Getting ready for language and learning

A healthy pregnancy

Adequate nutrition

Safe physical environment

Early detection and treatment of developmental problems

Sensitive attunement and involvement of parents and caregivers

Emotional health of parents and caregivers

Parents' beliefs and expectations

Sensitive attunement and involvement of parents and caregivers


Infant's temperament

Appropriate stimulation

Positive parenting skills

Safe and varied environment



Starting school is an important event in all children's lives. Experiences within their family and with caregivers chosen by their family prepare children physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially to take this step. During the preschool years, parents and caregivers have been their teachers, role models, cheer leaders and protectors.

The care children receive in their families is one of the major factors in helping them to develop the skills and attitudes that constitute "readiness to learn". Readiness to learn, as measured by kindergarten teachers is both the strongest single determinant and a major predictor of later school success. (53, 65, 20)


In daily interactions during this period, families are establishing many of the ways of relating to one another that will continue in their future relationships. In their day-to-day activities with their parents, children are also learning to label and talk about the world around them, to carry on conversations, to describe and deal with emotions, and to resolve difficulties in ways that are socially acceptable. These are skills they need to meet and play with other children and to work effectively in a classroom.

While mothers have traditionally provided much of the parenting support to ready children for school, recent studies have underscored the importance of the involvement of fathers as well. "Paternal behavior, such as spending time with children, providing emotional support, giving everyday assistance, monitoring children's behavior and noncoercive disciplining" has been linked to positive child outcomes such as academic success (for example, test scores, grades, years of education), positive social behavior (for example, social competence, popularity, size of support network), and lower levels of certain negative traits, for example, conduct problems, delinquency and depression. (342)

The chart below lists factors that influence children's healthy development as they prepare for school.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that families can implement.

To return to the table, close the new window.

Physically healthy

Age-appropriate social skills

Positive emotional health

Appropriate language and learning skills

Nutrition, exercise, medical care

Protection from injuries

Healthy physical environment

Adequate financial resources

Relationship with parents and caregivers

Experiences with other adults

Experiences with other children


Secure attachment

Developing sense of competence

Supportive communities

Protection from abuse


Stimulating homes

Quality childcare and preschool education

Prepared primary schools


 


Parents and other family members have a significant impact on the development of self-identity and self-esteem in adolescence. In homes where parents provide affection, respect, challenges, opportunities for success and freedom to make choices within clearly-defined limits, children and adolescents develop positive feelings of self-worth. Research also suggests that young people achieve better outcomes in school when their parents value education and stay involved and interested in their schooling.

Children who have positive relationships with family members when they reach adolescence are more likely to succeed in relationships with their peers and other adults.

Family members are an important source of information and role modeling for young people who are undergoing the changes associated with puberty and who are making important decisions related to sexuality and the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. This can be the case even where both parents do not reside in the home. Studies have shown that supportive parenting by non-resident fathers, for example, is associated with positive child outcomes in a variety of areas. This research has suggested "that it is not the amount of time that non-resident fathers spend with their childre, but how they interact with their children that is important." (342)

The chart below lists factors that influence children's healthy development as they enter adolescence.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that families can implement.

To return to the table, close the new window.

A secure and integrated self-identity

Strong social skills

A commitment to learning and participating in school

The ability to make healthy choices

Adaptability

Supportive home environment

Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment

Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment


Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment

Role models and peer support

Supportive learning and living environments

Media

Supportive home environment

Support of significant others

Supportive learning and living environments

 


Young people who make a successful transition to adulthood do so in a variety of ways:

  • from school to work
  • from their family home to creating their own family
  • from the care of others to managing their own health and well-being
  • from being responsible members of a nuclear family to being responsible, contributing members of the community.

Families play a key role in helping young people navigate all of these changes.

Family members influence both educational and career choices and can help provide the support young people need to stay in school. Early school leavers tend to come from families who do not think that high school graduation is important or from families that are experiencing problems.

Many of the life and civic competency skills that are required to successfully leave the family home are acquired and reinforced in the family. Families also influence lifestyle choices; for example, young people whose parents smoke are more likely to smoke themselves.

The chart below lists factors that influence children's healthy development as they enter adulthood.

The headings of each column indicate a positive outcome we would like children to achieve.

Under each heading factors are listed that influence that outcome.

Clicking on an underlined influence will open a window containing a list of strategies that families can implement.

To return to the table, close the new window.

Prepared for work

Prepared for intimacy and family life

Prepared to participate in community life

Prepared to manage their personal health and well-being

Educational achievement

Opportunities to work and learn work-related skills

Accessible employment opportunities

Opportunities to overcome disadvantages that lead to early school leaving

Opportunities to develop an integrated, stable sense of identity

Opportunities to develop positive relationships

Gender and role socialization

Opportunities to overcome circumstances that lead to troubled relationships


Opportunities to make a meaningful contribution

Opportunities to learn life skills, respect for others and civic skills

 


Capacity for self-care

Influence and social support of significant others

Supportive learning, living and working environments

Media





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