Tuesday, March 27, 2018

12+ Kids' Books and Movies that Model Positive Family Dynamics

If you gave me a soapbox and told me to get on it, I'd probably start talking about the importance of good family relationships. A lot of things can help or hurt in forming these relationships, but one we don't always think about is the media's influence.

After all, kids have limited life experience  but TV and books give them access into other peoples' homes and lives! If they see the same scenario playing out over and over, then it gradually becomes what they see as "normal."

Which can be great if we're talking about getting kids comfortable with characters who have disabilities or are maybe of a different race or from a different culture than they are.

It's a big problem, though, when negative or dysfunctional family relationships are the thing getting normalized. Unfortunately, the media too often shows us that siblings don't get along and kids and parents never see eye-to-eye.

If we see that enough, we start to believe it. And so do our kids.

Part of raising kids who get along is showing them happy families in the media - these suggestions can help.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

Questions to Ask About Family Values in Media

I screen new books before my 9-year-old reads them. Why? I'm not so much worried about sex and violence, since there's only so much of that that can make it onto a shelf in the children's room at the library.

But I am flipping through the pages and asking:
  • Is there a stereotypical bratty younger sister or a mean older brother here?
  • Does the main character treat his siblings badly even though he's a "good guy?"
  • Is the main character rude to her parents?
  • Are the parents set up as one-dimensional obstacles to what the main character wants?
  • Does the main character see his parents as guides? Does he ever go to them for help when there's a problem?
  • Do the siblings ever work together? Help each other? Have fun together?
  • Does the main character think positively about her family? Does she love them?
One of the best things parents can do to encourage good family relationships and sibling love is to look carefully at their media: many kids’ books and family movies actually normalize sibling rivalry, fighting, and attitude with mom and dad. This list helps parents find movies and books that promote family togetherness and being friends with your siblings, plus more tips for building a sibling relationship! #familyrelationships #parentingtips

Family-Friendly Media Recommendations

It's kind of depressing, but there simply aren't that many books, movies, and TV shows I've come across that show the kind of family dynamics I want my kids to think are "normal."

So my very first advice about the media would be to limit it, especially television. We don't own a TV, and the lack of positive family dynamics on the screen is one reason I'm not in a hurry to get one.

With that caveat in mind, though, I do want to make a few recommendations:


Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne follow a brother and sister who have adventures together time traveling in their magic tree house. Educational and good for grades 2-3.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis is a fantastic story with four siblings who love and look out for each other, even when one of the siblings doesn't do the right thing all the time. I'd recommend the Narnia books for about 5th grade and the movies for age 8 and up.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket is a little dark, but the sibling dynamics can't be beat. The kids rely on each other and work together (even the baby) to unravel the mystery of their missing parents. Good for grades 6-8. I highly recommend both the movie adaptation and the Netflix miniseries, too.

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Of course Harry's home situation is comically bad, but since he's virtually adopted into the cozy and close-knit Weasley family I included this one. The siblings are friends and nobody can love them all like Mama Weasley (although I think the books show this dynamic better than the film.) The series is good to start reading in about 4th grade.

The Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner are about four orphans who look out for each other and solve mysteries together. Good for grades 2-5.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. There is a deep and special bond between this brother-sister pair who travel through time and space to save their father and bring him back home. Good for grades 5-8.

Land of Stories by Chris Colfer. This four-book series begins with a pair of 12-year-old twins who discover a book that transports them to the world of fairy tales. Ideal for grades 3-5.

Movies and TV

The Incredibles (PG, 2004.) A family of superheroes have to use their powers to work together and save each other. Mom loves dad, dad loves mom, kids love each other and everybody loves the kids.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (G, 1971.) I haven't seen the newer remake, but I don't know that it could hold a candle to the sweet relationship between the main character and his Grandpa Joe in this classic story. (Plus, the kids who boss around their parents are clearly "the bad guys" and get their comeuppance at the end.)

The Sound of Music (G, 1965.) I don't think you can get much closer than a group of 7 siblings who go around singing together. I love how the siblings in this movie spend a lot of time together and always look like they're having fun doing it.

The Princess Diaries (G, 2001.) Throughout the movie, the teenage main character goes rock climbing with her mom, shares her feelings, gives her hugs, and goes to her for advice when she's got decisions to make. When Grandma enters the picture, the teenager takes her out on a day trip for fun.

Older TV shows like 7th Heaven and Full House. In the 1990s, several popular sitcoms were based on functional, loving families. If you can get past the synthesized theme song, every episode shows that the best way to solve your problems is to look for guidance and help from your siblings, parents (and in Full House's case, aunts and uncles, too.)

One of the best things parents can do to encourage good family relationships and sibling love is to look carefully at their media: many kids’ books and family movies actually normalize sibling rivalry, fighting, and attitude with mom and dad. This list helps parents find movies and books that promote family togetherness and being friends with your siblings, plus more tips for building a sibling relationship! #familyrelationships #parentingtips

I'm not including a list of books or movies to avoid, because even media with less-than-stellar family dynamics might have other merits. Maybe they're funny or educational or teach about other values.

And ultimately, they're just a drop in the bucket. Your kids will survive just fine as long as (1) their exposure to unhealthy family dynamics in the media is limited and (2) they have a lot of positive experiences with their own families.

My kids tell me that siblings in books "always" fight, but they also know it's just fiction because in real life their own brothers and sisters are their best friends.

A Word of Caution about Books/Movies About Families

There are two types of "family values" type books that in general, I do NOT like, and that's worth mentioning here.

The first is anything with the theme of squabbling siblings who go through something and learn to like each other at the end. It's supposedly heartwarming, but the problem is that 95% of the book is them fighting. Just when they learn to be a happy family, it's over. I much prefer media where the siblings are already friends, or there is already a strong parent-child relationship, and that is the backdrop for the story.

On the same note, I'm also not a fan of most "I'm Going to Be a Big Brother/Sister" books. The token scene about being jealous of the new baby plants the idea in a child's head that having a sibling will not be a positive experience. (Sort of like how my kids would never have thought to be scared of monsters under the bed if they hadn't read a hundred books about it first!)

By paying attention to the media that goes into our kids' ears and eyes, I think my husband and I are helping the kids develop healthy relationships with us and with each other.

Rest assured, they still argue, have bad days, or are just plain grouchy sometimes. But they play much more than they fight, and this note my 6-year-old secretly left on her 11-year-old sister's bed suggests that we must be doing all right:

Part of raising kids who get along is showing them happy families in the media - these suggestions can help.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
Message on the pillow says "I LOVE YOU" and in Post-It notes it adds "WITH ALL MY HART."

If that doesn't warm my "hart," I don't know what does.

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Diana Dye said...

Love this! I remember as a kid my mother not letting us watch shows where the kids knew more than the parents or that the dad was portrayed as a fool.

We also love the Little House on the Prairie books and television series around here. Can't get more functional family than that.

I loved Brady Brunch reruns as a kid but haven't watched it through parenting eyes yet.

Amanda said...

I love the Boxcar Children! I read them all the time when I was a kid. Little Women is also a great one and Anne of Green Gables! Two of my personal favorites :) The Incredibles was actually on TV the other day and we watched it for a bit. That is a fun movie. Another TV trope I don't like is the bumbling dad and the super Type A, obsessive mom. I don't like Everybody Loves Raymond for that reason because Raymond is always portrayed as being kind of dumb and I don't like that!

Amanda Bumgarner said...

Yes! Little House books too! Great sister relationships there :)

Alymcb said...

For “movies,” I can’t say enough good things about the animated Avatar: the Last Airbender (no relation to James Cameron’s film). Each episode is about 25 minutes, all working toward an organized suspense-building, character-developing plot climax. The four main characters are tweens or teens, and two are brother and sister. The dialogue and characters put most grownup movies to shame—kids as young as four and teens and adults all find it humorous and interesting. I even cried in a few parts. It’s available at Target or to purchase online. Really, family relationships at their absolute real best!
Books: love the choices mentioned and also the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban. Everybody please watch and read these, and then tell me how much you love them!!😊

Anna said...

I recommend checking out the Tales of Magic series by Edward Eager, seven books (involving several siblings and later cousins on various fantastical adventures) first published in the 1950s-1960s. I haven't read them in years but really liked them as a kid and I believe they fit your standards!

Anonymous said...

I can think of several books we read as kids that would fit your criteria. "The Family Nobody Wanted" by Helen Doss, about a family that consists of 12 adopted siblings all of different races; the story (which is true) takes place in the 1940's and 50's when the parents (the father is a minister) had to go through a lot of opposition to adopt children who weren't white, and the book is primarily about them working together to build a family that loves each other. "Baby Island" by Carol Ryrie Brink is about two sisters who are stranded on a desert island with a bunch of babies and have to work together to make sure the babies are all right (I know it sounds dark but it's not, it's a children's book, I promise.) Also "Papa's Wife" and "Mama's Family" by Thyra Ferre Bjorn, about a preacher's family in Lapland at the turn of the century. There are so many good older books that show strong family relationships. (Because I don't have a blog, I had to comment as Anonymous but my name is Julie and I'm real, I swear. :o)

Budget Splurge Beauty said...

I really agree with you on this, even though I think we are fundmaneally different. Which is cool to me! I think also once you've set the foundation and teachings of the importance of a healthy family, then once there is media that shows a different experience, you can talk about it and use it as a learning tool to maybe a)show what some people might go through to highlight why the values are important or b) as a "what not to do" guideline. Once they learn to recognize it as that, I think and hope that they can consume media without normalizing it. I enjoy media about true crime type stuff, and find that kind of stuff fascinating, but I don't think I'm normalizing it. Because I'm being mindful and conscious about it. Does that make sense? I think it's possible for kids to do that too once they are at an appropriate age, but it's up to the parents to lay the foundations for that.

I have always been a huge fan of the disney channel but I saw a lot of critiques about how childrens/preteen shows (especially disney & nickelodeon) often have really terrible family/parental relationships. If there are even parents in the series at all! I think this is a huge impact and a very valid critique. It doesn't have to be as cheesy as Full House, but I feel that disney channel should go back to that wholesome family look.

Budget Splurge Beauty said...

fundamentally * lol...

Jenny Evans said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I'd seen The Last Airbender mentioned as a good family show, but thought, "Avatar? There was nothing about families in it!" Now I know why I was confused.

Jenny Evans said...

Everybody Loves Raymond doesn't have the greatest dynamic, but I have to admit that it's one of my favorite shows of all-time. Maybe because I have a slightly different perspective: I'm practically married to a Raymond - and I know my husband is brilliant, he just likes to be funny and avoid conflict.

Jenny Evans said...

But in general, I know exactly what you're talking about and can't stand that, either.