There’s no doubt that families are an important resource for helping children recover from trauma, but there has been little research in exactly which characteristics are important. Researchers looking at that question recently analyzed 31 studies surveying more than 8600 children, many of whom had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They found that children in families with high conflict were more likely to suffer from PTSD. On the other hand, children with various positive elements were less likely to have the diagnosis. Those positive elements included family warmth, such as family members’ listening to each other. Other important traits were positive family communication, family cohesion, and family norms.
Of course, as in all of these mental health studies, correlation is not the same as causation. Families are not recipes, where we add 3 parts love to 2 parts patience, bake for six months and have a perfect family. Family members, including and especially children who have lost an intact biological family, make their own decisions about whether to accept or reject us. But we can make our families more attractive to them and increase their odds of recovering from trauma.
These studies can help point the way to increase those odds. We can work on increasing family warmth, such as paying attention and listening to each other. We can buttress family communication, have each other’s backs, and provide nurturing structure to our kids. None of these is easy, but making progress on them can make our parenting jobs a bit easier.