Strong families are healthy families, according to research by the Minnesota Family Strength Project. While most families see themselves as strong, they say there are things they'd like to do better.
The 2,000 families who participated in the project confirmed several common landmarks that are central to the strength of any family. They are communication; time spent together; physical, mental and economic health; spirituality and support.
Family strength is like physical strength -- the more you work on it, the better you feel. If it feels like your family is a bit out of shape, here are a few ideas you can use to help tone up your family's strength in each area.
Communication takes extra effort in these fast-paced times, with family members coming and going on different schedules. Setting a regular time to talk about the day's activities can help. Having dinner together creates an ideal time to talk, but when that doesn't work, you can talk at bedtime or on rides to and from school.
One of the greatest barriers to communication can be noise from other sources. Try turning off the radio in the car or turning off the television at breakfast. Ignore telephone calls during dinner. It will open up some quiet time that encourages conversation.
Time together is central to strong families. Designate specific times when the family will be together, then set a good example by arranging your own plans to preserve family time. Take turns having family members suggest things to do together. They can be as simple as reading to each other or going to the zoo and as adventurous as a canoe trip or volunteering to work together at a homeless shelter.
For your family's physical health, get regular medical check-ups for each member and follow the doctor's advice. Go for walks, play catch, ride bikes or rake the yard together.
For your family's mental health, avoid morning rushes by assigning some tasks to the night before, like laying out clothes, setting the breakfast table or packing school bags. Watch for mood changes in family members. Even young children get depressed. If someone seems down longer than usual, talk to a professional.
Economic health is also important. Don't wait for a crisis to bring up money topics. It's easier to discuss priorities when you're not trying to solve an immediate problem. One way to start is by getting the whole family involved in creating and sticking to a budget.
Spirituality means many things to many people, but strong families often share a faith in a higher power, or a sense of what came before and what will live on when they're gone. Family members can start by talking to each other about what spirituality means to them. Many find it rewarding to attend classes, programs or services at a place of worship. Others simply discuss religious or cultural rituals and what they mean to the family. If these topics seem difficult to bring up, try looking for opportunities to talk about faith and values while discussing a movie or a favorite TV show you've just watched together.
Support. In strong families, members can rely on each other for help, for a sympathetic ear, or just when they need to know someone cares. This is perhaps the simplest, and yet most powerful area for building family strength. All it takes is a simple expression of appreciation or affection. Write a friendly note. Give a compliment to a family member every day. Look for opportunities to help out, instead of looking for reasons why you can't. Attend each other's sports events, performances and celebrations.
Allina Behavioral Health Services
Behavioral health topics
Source: Allina Health System Foundation, Minnesota Family Strength Project
First published: 07/29/1999
Last updated: 03/14/2006
Reviewed by: Susan Tabor, BSN, RN, care center director, Behavioral Health Services, United Hospital