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Describing family stories that affected one’s emotional development is a deeply personal assignment. No one can do it for you. Every individual is unique, and every family different. There are certainly similarities among families, but family histories are unique to each one, and the emotional development of children down the generations is shaped at least in part by those histories.
The most important connection or relationship in a child’s life is that between him or her and parents. During early, crucial years of development, what the parents convey or teach both in words and by example play an enormously important role in the child’s emotional development. Providing physical and emotional comfort and support is essential to the healthy development of most children. As children grow and explore, however, they become exposed to more influences: relatives, teachers, television characters and music performers. The levels of influence of each may be barely perceptible, but the aggregate effect can be determinative of a child’s mental evolution.
Teaching a child right from wrong is among the more basic of parenting responsibilities. Relating examples of good and bad choices by one’s relatives – for example, how an uncle once drove home from a party and hit another car, killing the occupants, because he had been drinking alcoholic beverages – is not exactly the kind of family story a parent wants to pass along, but the lesson is clear. Conversely, describing the academic achievements of a cousin or some other relative that lead to professional success can provide the stimulus that contributes to emotional development in a positive sense. Telling a child about a grandfather who served in war can be the prelude to that child’s growing understanding of the world and about how events shape us as people.
In his book about research he conducted on life inside the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, author Peter Earley describes the upbringing of one of the more hardened criminals he interviewed. This inmate’s father taught his young son about the need to be distrustful and assume the worst of other people, and that the consequences of ignoring that lesson would be his murder. That child grew up a sociopath who is serving a life sentence for violent crimes. [See Pete Earley, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison, 1993) This is obviously as extreme case, but it does illuminate the extent to which family stories or lessons can influence development. Family stories can be used to illuminate both good and bad decisions others have made and from which lessons can be learned.
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