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The importance of your entourage

The more a child is surrounded by adults who love him—like grandparents, uncles, aunts or family friends—the better he will develop.

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The strength of a network

We know that parents who have a good social network receive more help and exhaust themselves less. But did you know that all the loving people in your child’s life also play a part in helping him thrive?

By Julie Leduc

We know that parents who have a good social network receive more help and exhaust themselves less. But did you know that all the loving people in your child’s life also play a part in helping him thrive?

Having children takes a lot out of you! It’s normal to need help. In fact, helping each other look after children is part of human nature, says Carl Lacharité, director of the Centre for interdisciplinary studies on child and family development at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. “Human child care relies on the participation of many people,” he says. This can be explained by the amount of care babies require and the fact that childhood lasts a long time. We know that parents benefit from being in contact with loved ones, but so do children, Lacharité explains. “To develop well, a child needs repetition, variety and novelty. Even if, as a parent, you’re pretty much the whole package, a child needs to see who else is out there.”

Multiple benefits

Relationships with your entourage of family and friends therefore provide different sources of stimulation and double or triple a child’s exposure to elements that are essential to his development. “A child who feels safe only with his parents will have trouble building self-confidence,” states Carl Lacharité. “On the other hand, if he’s often with other people and is able to feel safe with his grandparents, aunt, uncle or family friends, he’ll become more self-confident more quickly.”

When your child spends time with his entourage, he creates an attachment with people other than you. This helps him open up to the world and encourages him to explore, says Nathalie Parent, psychologist and lecturer at Université Laval. According to Carl Lacharité, all aspects of a child’s development benefit from having a reassuring and stimulating entourage. “It has a positive impact not only on social skills, but also on language, intelligence and motor skills,” he adds.

For example, when a young child speaks to his aunt or a neighbour, they might not understand him as easily as his parents do. “They’ll therefore ask him to repeat what he said,” observes Nathalie Parent. “This then forces the child to find other words and to develop his language so he can be understood.”

When he spends time with people other than you, your child is stimulated differently and learns new things.

It is therefore in your best interest to encourage the involvement of your entourage, while making sure, of course, that your child is in contact with people who want to be with him and who have his well-being at heart. Suzanne Lavigueur, honorary professor with the Department of Educational Phsychology and Psychology at Université du Québec en Outaouais believes that a person who judges a child and thinks he should be different isn’t offering the toddler anything positive. “A relationship can also be considered negative if the other person criticizes the parent in front of the child,” she says. “For instance, a child mustn’t find himself caught between his mother and grandmother.”

Happily, most of the time, close family members mean well. “People who are emotionally and biologically related to a child tend to want to take care of him,” observes Carl Lacharité. And they play an important role for him.

When your child has special needs
Involving your entourage can be a challenge for parents of children with special needs. “Sometimes parents are uncomfortable asking for help and are afraid of being judged,” says Suzanne Lavigueur. “Other times, it’s the people in your entourage who are afraid of not being able to provide the proper care for the child or who just aren’t familiar enough with the situation.” In both cases, she suggests giving those in your entourage the opportunity to understand the child’s reality. “For example, you can stop by a grandparent’s or friend’s house with your child and stay during the visit, or invite friends or family members to join you on an outing.” It’s also possible to develop ties with other people facing similar challenges via support groups or specialized organizations.

Precious grandparents

The presence of grandparents has a positive impact on a young child’s self-esteem. “Grandparents have unconditional love for their grandchildren,” notes Nathalie Parent. “Toddlers feel this admiration, and it gives them confidence in themselves and their abilities.” Grandparents often have more time and more experience, and they don’t carry the burden of parental obligations. “They do things simply for the pleasure of being with their grandkids, and that makes young children feel important,” adds Suzanne Lavigueur. The patience and tolerance often shown by grandparents can also provide comfort. For example, faced with a child who’s not behaving well, their reactions are often less negative.

Suzanne Lavigueur has also noted the positive effects of maternal grandmother involvement in her work on vulnerable moms. “Several young moms reported that their mothers played a pivotal role in their child’s life.” The grandmothers in the study provided financial assistance for childcare, but they also provided emotional security for the young child by playing with him, consoling him and spending time with him, for example. Other studies have even shown that a good relationship with a loving grandmother can reduce the negative impact on a child of having a less affectionate mom.

Are parents open to the involvement of others?
According to the experts surveyed, parents are generally open to the involvement of loved ones in the lives of their children. “However, some parents are more protective than others and find it difficult to entrust their child to someone else,” observes psychologist Nathalie Parent. They must keep in mind that their entourage is not there to take their place. Loved ones are there to complement a parent’s role.
Sometimes as well, it’s the entourage who’s afraid to get involved for fear of intruding, of not knowing what to do with the child or of ending up always being asked to babysit. In these cases, parents can get their family involved in their child’s life gradually. Ties can be created by stopping by for short visits at grandma’s or a friend’s house, or by sending pictures or a drawing to an uncle. Over time, a relationship will begin to form.
However, if parent anxieties or family conflicts prevent a child from spending time with others, Nathalie Parent recommends trying to improve the situation. One way to do this would be to see a psychologist or a social worker, who would be able to help the parents overcome some of their fears or better understand their family conflicts.

The roots of a tree

Knowing where we come from gives us a sense of security. When grandparents share their memories, children understand that they have some history and that they come from a long family line, says Nathalie Parent. This helps them build their identity.

Grandparents also offer stability. For example, when a second child is born or a parent falls sick, grandparents are there to take over. “It’s very reassuring for a child to go to his grandparents and do the same things he always did before,” says Suzanne Lavigueur.

Seeing grandparents on a regular basis can also make it easier for a child to deal with the separation of his parents. This is why parents who are separated should try to maintain the relationship between their child and the parents of their ex-spouse, even if they are angry with each other, says Nathalie Parent. “A child experiencing so much change needs to keep some sense of continuity and see that some things don’t change,” the psychologist adds.

Aunts, uncles, friends and co.

Aunts, uncles, friends and neighbours can also play a role in a child’s life. Marianne Prairie, parenting author and blogger, believes in the importance of a social network not only to support parents, but also to participate in child development. She has seen the advantages on her own daughters aged 3 and 6. “It’s good for them to be in contact with other adults. It gives them other role models.” Her daughters are very close to her friends and neighbours. “Some of them have babies, so by spending time with them, my daughters see what it’s like to have a little brother and take care of a baby.” It’s almost as if her daughters were part of one big family!

At the homes of aunts, uncles, friends and neighbours, things are different. When your child spends time with them, he learns to adapt. “He sees that rules, instructions and ways of doing things can be different in other people’s homes,” says Nathalie Parent. “He learns to adjust.” The child also learns new things by doing activities he wouldn’t do with you. For example, he may learn more about fish by going fishing with an uncle, or about yoga by going with a cousin.

“I find that children who are used to spending time with different people are more curious and adapt better to change,” says Marianne Prairie. Suzanne Lavigueur adds that regularly connecting with others offers youngsters a bigger pool of people to turn to later on when, as teenagers, they may want or need to confide in someone other than their parents. “It’s such a valuable gift!” she says.

Thanks for being a part of my life!

The people who are a part of a parent’s life have a positive influence on the child’s life, too. Three families express their thanks to the important people in their lives or those who played a special role for them or their little ones.

The people who are a part of a parent’s life have a positive influence on the child’s life, too. Three families express their thanks to the important people in their lives or those who played a special role for them or their little ones.

Thanks to my friend

Benjamin Quintino, dad to 2-year-old Valentina, and his wife, Izabela, arrived from Brazil a little over three years ago. From the outset, Benjamin was in contact with several Brazilians, including Anderson Silva, now a close friend. “Things clicked immediately with him. We get along very well. I want to thank him because he’s an important part of our family life,” says Benjamin.

The two families are very close and meet every Saturday. This bond also benefits Benjamin’s daughter, Valentina. “Since my daughter was born here and goes to daycare all day, she’s a lot more Quebecer than she is Brazilian. I think spending time with Brazilian friends is an opportunity for us to share our roots with her.

“My daughter plays a lot with his daughter, who is two years older. They get along well and it’s good for her to have a close friend. Sometimes they argue, but they’re learning how to settle their conflicts! We often bring them to the park so they can play,” says the dad.

The two dads also help each other out a lot. Anderson babysits Benjamin’s daughter sometimes, and vice versa. “We even share food. When we make a dish, we give some to them, and they do the same. Often, we cook all together. Brazilian food, of course!”

Thanks to two educators

Suzy Wong, mom to 5-year-old Xavier, lived in Quebec City before moving to Laval. Since she was finding it hard to get to know people, she enrolled her son at the Vimont community daycare. “He went two mornings a week,” she says.

Suzy would especially like to thank Geneviève Laquerre and Jade Samson, two community daycare educators who helped her son a lot. “Xavier didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone other than his father and me. Our family doctor even thought it could be an autism spectrum disorder. Jade and Geneviève were really good with him, and he took to them right away. They got him to open up and start trusting people other than us. At the community daycare, Xavier enjoyed doing all kinds of activities like arts and crafts, dancing, singing and so on. He would even insist on going when we were on vacation!” says Suzy.

Suzy and her husband soon saw a difference in Xavier’s behaviour. “He became easier to approach, more articulate, happy and sociable. After less than four months of attending the community daycare, his doctor noted a visible improvement. He concluded that Xavier’s development was entirely normal for his age. This fall, Xavier is attending school in a regular class.

“I’m confident things will go well. If Jade and Geneviève hadn’t been there, it would have no doubt been harder,” concludes Suzy.

Thanks to my parents

Marie-Ève Alarie, mom to 2-year-old Malcolm and 5-month-old Malik, can always count on her parents, Gérard and France Alarie. “I want to thank them for the time they’ve dedicated to their grandchildren since the start. They live close by, and we see them about two to three times a week,” she says.

During her first maternity leave, Marie-Ève also spent a lot of time at their place. “My father has a handicap, but that doesn’t stop him from getting down on the floor to play with Malcolm or bringing him to the park. And no one could match his talent for putting Malcolm to sleep when he was a baby. He also reads him stories. Because his mobility is reduced and he can’t go out as much now, seeing the children puts joy into his daily routine. He’s completely crazy about his grandsons,” she says.

Marie-Ève’s mother does a lot of painting and play dough with Malcolm—activities for which Marie-Ève has little patience. “My mother also sings with him a lot. When his brother was born, I had to stay in the hospital for a few days, and she taught him a beautiful song that he’d sing to me on the phone.”

Marie-Ève and her partner both work full-time and she admits that there are certain things they don’t really have the time to do. “My parents, however, can offer our children a lot of quality time.”

Malcolm is a super outgoing little guy because he was in contact with other adults very early on,” says his mom. “If my parents didn’t live so close, things would have no doubt been different. Given my slightly anxious personality, I would probably have been more protective of him.”

The impact of your living environment

Are you familiar with the community organizations in your area? Does your city support families? Read on to see how local activities and services also have a role to play in your child’s development.

Are you familiar with the community organizations in your area? Does your city support families? Read on to see how local activities and services also have a role to play in your child’s development.

An increasing number of towns and cities across Quebec are making efforts to improve their support to families by adopting family policies. These improvements concern various spheres of community life, including recreation and sports, cultural activities, real estate development, and access to municipal infrastructures such as arenas or parks.

“Family policies may even dictate urban planning and design to ensure children can play safely,” highlights Marc-André Plante, General Manager of Carrefour action municipale et famille, an organization that supports the development of municipal family policies in Quebec. For example, Beloeil, Verdun and Sorel-Tracy have amended their regulations to allow children to play in the street.

“Playing in the street is an opportunity for young kids to explore their neighbourhood,” explains Marc-André Plante. “It’s where they have fun with their first friends and develop social skills.”

Cities are having to adapt to meet the changing needs of families. “In most families nowadays, both parents work, and one of them may have an atypical schedule,” explains Marc-André Plante. “There are also more blended families.”

Cities are therefore offering more flexible activities that fit in better with parents’ hours. Families can choose to go at the times that suit them best, without being obliged to sign up or follow a complete session. For example, the city of Rouyn-Noranda, in a joint effort with community organizations, has created Tic-Tac Parc. Through this initiative, the city’s parks now have boxes containing toys and books available to everyone all the time. Other towns and cities put on free events such as outdoor movie nights or story times.

Also, today’s dads are more present in their children’s lives. “Before, you’d almost never find changing tables in men’s washrooms,” Marc-André Plante points out. “Decision-makers have now understood that changing a diaper is not a task reserved for moms. Family locker rooms in public pool facilities also make it easier for dads to accompany their daughters to swimming lessons.”

In fact, to recognize the commitment of cities and some establishments towards children and families, several certifications have appeared in recent years such as Child Friendly Cities, the Certifié famille program or the ISO Famille certification.

Community organizations

Community organizations in cities also play an important role in the lives of families and children. For example, some offer workshops or playgroups where children can socialize. “These organizations offer complementary stimulation in a different setting and so add to a child’s experiences,” explains Annie Bérubé, professor with the Department of Educational Psychology and Psychology at Université du Québec en Outaouais.

“Others offer respite to parents, help lines or psychological support,” adds Marie Lindsay, president of the Regroupement des organismes communautaires Famille de la région de la Capitale-Nationale (Association of family community organizations for the National Capital Region). “Some even organize coffee get-togethers or seminars for parents. These services help in toddler development since a supported parent is a better parent.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lack of information out there. According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, a quarter of parents with young children don’t know about the services offered to families in their area. Many parents are also reluctant to seek help for themselves; they think they don’t really need it.

Your municipality’s website can help you find activities offered in your neighbourhood!

Yet these services can benefit parents in several ways. “Mothers often feel quite isolated after the birth of their child,” says Marie Lindsay. “Our organizations allow them to talk to other parents about their experiences, develop friendships and help each other out.” Annie Bérubé adds that the dads and moms who participate find it very rewarding to discover that they can be so helpful to others.

These services are also good for children. In her research, Annie Bérubé evaluated several community organizations. “We questioned about one hundred parents, whose comments were all positive,” she says. “They see the benefits on their child’s socialization and overall development.”

Montreal: A new children’s policy
In spring 2016, the city of Montreal introduced a Policy on Children to mark its commitment to all children from birth to age 17. The city wants to create what it calls a “child reflex”, to ensure that children are taken into account in municipal decision-making. The Policy on Children aims to help meet children’s needs by creating more favourable environments for them, by improving access to culture, sports and recreation, by promoting healthy eating, and by stepping up efforts to encourage academic perseverance.

 

Remember
  • Grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbours : everyone can contribute to a child’s healthy development.
  • When surrounded by people who love and take care of her, your child will build self-confidence and learn to bond with other people.
  • Your entourage offers your child different kinds of stimulation, which allows her to learn new things.
  • The environment your child grows up in and the services available to families in your local area can also help her thrive.

 

Naître et grandir

Source : Naître et grandir Magazine, November 2016
Research and copywriting : Julie Leduc
Scientific review : Julie Brousseau, psychologist

 

Photos : iStock.com/Christopher Futcher, iStock.com/Christopher Futcher, iStock.com/Maxim Morin

Make a paper garland

Make a paper garland showcasing the most important people in your life.

1. Download and print the paper garland.

2. Cut out the left side of the sheet.

3. Fold accordion style at the fold marks.

4. Ask an adult to help you cut out the figure along the dotted line.

5. Unfold and draw the most important people in your life other than your parents: your granddad, your aunt, a family friend, etc

6. Use the following pages as required.


Download the paper garland