We are wired to interact and connect with other people. Right after we are born, we need to be fed, held and changed. This is the beginning of relationships. Our first opportunity for relationships comes from the interactions and connections we have with our family and caregivers. As infants, these interactions mostly involve very simple things: facial expressions, various noises, crying, laughing, being held, rocked, and having our caregivers take care of our basic needs. As we get older, we start to use words, but continue using facial expressions, body language and physical connections (how would it be to never be touched or hugged?) to connect, share and interact with the people around us.
We explore and experiment with these communication techniques with family so we can then use what we learn with other people throughout our lives. Our daily family interactions help us to deal with a variety of different people, types of relationships and situations.
When it comes to academics, maybe you only talk about school with one of your parents. Maybe you find it easier to talk to someone else in your family about your social life and friends. Perhaps you connect with one of your siblings more than another. Maybe you notice that your brother or sister is constantly fighting with someone else in the family, but you don’t have the same experience.
These experiences, and others, help us learn ways of dealing with authority, handling competition, rules for sharing, how we get and give attention, and how we care for others. Since all families experience tension or problems every so often, this is also our first experience with learning how to compromise and deal with conflict. The different relationships we have with the people in our family are an array of opportunities to learn ways of navigating all different types of relationships in the “real world.”
Our family relationships are the basic fuel that emotionally “nourish” us, help us feel cared for, loved, and also help us begin to learn how to relate to and deal with other people and situations in our world.