Throughout history and across cultures, families have been and continue to be one of the most enduring institutions in the world. And as you probably know, they’re also one of the most complex and inter-dependent institutions in existence.

By Ida Carruthers, FEPP HQ

So what exactly makes a family strong, and what does “strong family functioning” have to do with it?27165435_DavidKeith_0678

Strong families are dynamic and responsive to changing needs, developmental tasks, and challenges. Strong families celebrate their successes and learn from their failures. They also have clearly defined roles, especially between parents and their children.

It’s important that professionals, institutions, and organizations who work with families recognize two key features in order to help develop strong families:

  • Diversity of families
  • Key skills and competencies found in healthy and well-functioning families.

So let’s go over 10 Components that can help you when building strong families:

  1. Communication. Communication involves family members sharing meaningful information among each other. Family members communicate with one another in a variety of methods, including verbal, non-verbal, written, and electronic messages. Supportive communication has the potential to increase intimacy and connections among family members; while hurtful, angry communication can damage relationships.
  • Open honest communication between couples is a cornerstone of strong family functioning, as it creates the foundation for how information is shared and provides a model for children.26162110_DavidKeith_0031
  • Parent-Child. Strong families demonstrate positive inter-partner communication and practice effective communication skills with their children. Open respectful communication benefits the child, parent, and the parent-child relationship.
  1. Emotional Regulation. Emotional regulation refers to the ability to modulate emotional reactions to other people and stressful situations. People who can regulate their emotions can cope effectively with significant challenges, and don’t become easily overwhelmed with emotional distress.
  • Within the parent-child relationship, emotional regulation most often manifests itself through the parents’ management of their emotions, and how they respond to the child’s feelings.
  1. Family Cohesion. Family Cohesion is the level of support and commitment family members have towards one another. This is often reflected in supportive family involvement, family bonding, and family climate.
  • A key component of intimate relationships is intimacy, or the level of connection and closeness partners feel towards each other. Couples that have a strong positive relationship support one another, regularly express appreciation, communicate openly, have high levels of trust, they know they can depend upon each other.
  • Parent-Child. A strong bond between the parent and child is important for family cohesiveness. Children are well-served when they feel a strong bond with the adults most responsible for their physical and psychological development.27162111_DavidKeith_0638
  1. Family Recreation and Leisure Time. Strong families spend time together doing activities that do not involve work or household chores. Family leisure time can be divided into two different categories.
  • Core family leisure is defined as those activities that are “common, every day, low-cost, relatively accessible, often home-based activities that many families do frequently.”
  • Balance family leisure consist of “activities that are generally less common, less frequent, more out of the ordinary, and usually not home-based thus providing novel experiences.”
  1. Financial Management. Strong families work hard to minimize negative stress and to cope effectively. In this way, they strive to create a family culture that operates from a healthy, mutually supportive standpoint.   Strong families use healthy communication and coping skills related to financial issues and work together to avoid accruing large amounts of debts.
  1. Prosocial Family Values. Parents are always teaching their children about family norms and values both verbally and nonverbally. How families spend their time, treat one another, help others, and work together when challenges arise all communicate individual and family values. Prosocial family values can help prevent children and especially adolescents from engaging in negative and antisocial behavior.
  1. Resilience. Resiliency relates to a family’s ability to adapt to change. Some common changes that families face include parenting children birth to adulthood, caring for an aging family member, or adjusting to parental development. Families that are resilient to change generally have adequate social and economic resources.
  1. Religiosity and Spirituality. Families that engage in religious or spiritual activities are promoting healthy development. Although no universal definition exists for the two terms, research continues to be widely cited by scholars who study the impact of religion and spirituality on individuals.
  • Religiosity and spirituality provide a context from which couples can view their marriage and parenting as an important institution that deserves their attention. This can lead to better family interactions and cohesiveness, while decreasing the risk of divorce, marital conflict, infidelity, domestic violence, and child physical abuse.
  • Parent-Child. Parental involvement in formal religious organizations is a predictor for positive parent-youth relationships. Parental involvement in a religious organization increases parental supervisory, affective, and disciplinary practices within the relationship. Additionally, having active religious or spiritual life decreases negative behaviors in adolescents such as substance abuse, early sexual involvement, delinquent behavior, etc.26171624_DavidKeith_0096
  1. Routines and Rules. Routines and rituals play an important role in increasing predictability in family life, providing opportunities for regular communication, and strengthening the cohesion in relationships through the celebration of life events.
  • While many families benefit from routines and rituals, they can serve as a particularly important factor in counteracting the negative stresses associated with moving to a new country or location.
  1. Military Readiness. This term refers to the abilities of military families to acclimate to the military life cycle, including notification of deployment, absence of the Service member(s), and reintegration of the Service member(s) into the family unit.

You can find this information, discussion points, plus the complete Research Brief at: https://reachmilitaryfamilies.umn.edu . Military REACH project is the result of a partnership funded by the Department of Defense between the Office of Family Readiness Policy and the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through a grant/cooperative agreement with the University of Minnesota.