Kids and their Family Portraits

Posted on April 18, 2019 by DesignWorks Photography under Portraits

We explore the powerful effect of family photos on the mental health of your kids.

As someone who has taken professional portraits of children and families for over 14 years, I definitely know how important they are – to both families and to the children that are in them. Every day we see the delighted faces of kids saying ‘THAT’S ME!’ when they see themselves in a portrait! But did you know that there is solid evidence that being in a family photo on their wall is also good for a child’s mental health?! We didn’t, until recently!

Psychologists have studied the effect of having family photographs displayed in the home and found that those children with photographs displayed in the home grew up with greater confidence and sense of belonging than those who didn’t. They had stronger feelings of value and a better understanding of where they came from.

And it’s not just our littles who benefit from seeing photographs on the walls. On the hard days, like the day you got some sad news about a friend or the day that your littles just won’t stop fighting (all. day. long.), seeing those photographs on your wall can boost your spirits too. I’m not saying that hanging family pictures on your wall will solve all the world’s problems. But it can give you a little boost, a little pause, a moment of gratitude for the amazing people in your life.

This is not a new phenomenon – this research goes back decades. David Krauss, American psychologist and author of ‘Photo Therapy and Mental Health’, made the case for the benefits of family photographs on children and adolescent mental wellbeing in the 80s. He says, “I think it is really important to show a family as a family unit. It is so helpful for children to see themselves as a valued and important part…A photographer’s job is to create and make the image look like a safe holding space for kids where they are safe and protected. Kids get it on a really simple level.” It sounds so logical put like that, doesn’t it? Children see their image on the wall, framed by their parents and/or siblings, and they see their place in the world and the people who love them the most. It’s a daily reminder of who they are and where they belong. And that, in turn, strengthens their self-esteem and confidence.  

Krauss is one of the earliest pioneers in using people’s personal photography and family albums to assist in mental health counselling and therapy. He co-authored “Photo Therapy and Mental Health” in 1983 that is considered a founding text for the use of photography in therapy.

“It lets children learn who they are and where they fit,” says Judy Weiser, a psychologist, art therapist and author based in Vancouver. “They learn their genealogy and the uniqueness of their own family and its story. When a child sees a family portrait with them included in the photograph they say to themselves: ‘These people have me as part of what they are, that’s why I belong here. This is where I come from.’ ” Weiser has spent more than 20 years using all manner of personal photography to assist in the treatment process of her clients.

We all learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in school; after a person’s basic needs of food and shelter are met then the next most important human need is to feel a sense of belonging. Small children are too young to have strong attachments to football teams or other ‘tribes’ such as nerds, goths etc. The most basic tribe they know is their family. Their parents are a perfect example of who they want to be when they grow up. It makes perfect sense when you think about it; to your kids you are literally a superhero! You are strong enough to banish the monsters under the bed, your magic kisses heal scraped knees, you can do anything and make everything better. How amazing is it for them to be included in the same group with you?! They hero worship you – how powerful is it for them to see themselves in a photo WITH you, like an equal! To be part of your ‘team’.

Professor Geoff Beattie, Head of School and Dean of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester agreed: “We cannot underestimate the power of photographs to keep us feeling linked to others and belonging. They cement us into our networks. For children in particular, looking at photographs is part of the socializing process; learning who you are and where you fit into the family. By displaying photographs of our children at different stages of their lives, we are making a very public statement that we are proud of them.”

As family photographers we photograph children in all kinds of family situations and we’ve learned a lot about the portrait process from those who have been adopted at an older age and those who are fostered. It’s been a real teacher and made us think of it from new perspectives. What we have learned is – how important it is to be seen. We’ve been in the lucky position of being the very first people to photograph some children who have been fostered – imagine being an 8 year old child whom no-one has ever taken a photo of? When we take a photo of someone we tell them ‘you are important to me. You matter. You matter to us!’ We don’t photograph things we don’t care about! When we take a photo of a person (or even an object) we are making a statement: that what we are photographing is valuable to us. That we want to keep it with us in some way.

Whether your favourite person is a baby, a grandparent, a dear friend, your teenage child, or your partner the message is the same:

I love you so much, I want to capture you forever.

For more information on creating your own family portraits call us on 018021100 or email us.

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