Strong families: what they are, how they work

How do you make strong families? It isn’t about having a lot of money or possessions. Strong families grow from love, security, communication, connection – and a few rules and routines too.

Strong families: what they need

Strong families generally have a few things in common:

  • emotional and physical security
  • lots of warmth, care and positive attention
  • firm, fair rules and routines
  • good communication
  • connections to others outside the family.

Emotional and physical security in strong families

Strong families give everyone in the family a sense of emotional and physical security.

This means that when you’re with your family, you can relax and be yourself. It’s OK to be scared, angry, excited, anxious or anything else when you’re with your family. Those feelings will be accepted and understood.

If your child has a safe and secure family base, he’s likely to be more confident about himself and his ability to explore the world outside your family. That’s because he knows he can come to you for comfort, support and protection if things gets scary in the big, wide world – even if that’s just the local playground.

Tips for creating safety and security
Here are some ways you can create a sense of safety and security in your family:

  • Talk with your partner, if you have one, about the rituals that you’d like to create for your child and family – for example, bedtime stories. Rituals add to your child’s sense of security and belonging.
  • Talk with your child about feelings. You might even make a regular time to share feelings. For example, each family member could share their ‘highs and lows’ for the day at your evening meal.
  • Plan what you’ll do to manage ‘big’ feelings in a calm way. If you or your child is feeling stressed or upset, you might like to take a walk, listen to music or phone a friend to help you cope.
  • If you find yourself feeling critical and angry a lot of the time, it might be good to focus on looking after yourself or to get help with managing these feelings.
  • Show respect for each other by listening, waiting until people have finished speaking and avoiding criticism. If you need strategies, you could look at ways to improve your negotiation, problem-solving and conflict management skills.

Warmth, care and positive attention in strong families

Being warm, caring and affectionate with your child and partner, if you have one, helps to build good family relationships.

Children from warm, caring and affectionate families get along better with other children and teachers, and are less likely to bully others. Also, lots of affection makes your child feel special, which can help her deal with life’s ups and downs.

Positive attention is also important. This is the way you show delight in your child and warmth in your relationship with him – for example, getting down to his level and showing interest in what he’s doing. Positive attention builds connection and shows your child that you’re available if he needs you.

Even if your children have different temperaments, needs and talents, they all need your interest, encouragement and praise to help them feel good about themselves. This boosts their self-esteem and confidence.

Tips for creating warmth, care and positive attention
Here are some suggestions for creating warmth, care and positive attention in your family:

  • Tell your child how much you love her, and look for opportunities to tell her you’re proud of her.
  • Smile and look into your child’s eyes when you talk to him.
  • Show physical affection when you can.
  • Praise and encourage the people in your family when they do something well or something kind for others. For example, ‘Harriet, thank you for unpacking the dishwasher this morning – it was a big help’.
  • Show your care through creating fun shared times together.
  • Create opportunities for special one-on-one time, doing something you both enjoy.

Firm, fair rules and routines in strong families

Firm and fair family rules let everyone in the family know what’s expected and how to behave. Rules can help your family members get along better, and make family life more peaceful.

Effective rules are clear statements about how your family wants to look after and treat its members. Choose the most important things to make rules about – for example, a rule about not physically hurting each other would be a must for most families. You might also develop rules about safety, politeness, daily routines and respect for each other.

When children are raised in families with appropriate rules, they do better in school and are less likely to get involved in risky activities when they’re teenagers. Fair rules and reasonable consequences help children learn boundaries they can use in other areas of their lives – for example, boundaries at home can help children with following rules at school.

Routines are the regular planned activities that you do most days – for example, making meals, getting dressed, going to bed and so on. These activities help your home run smoothly.

Routines also let your child know what’s important to your family. They can help strengthen your shared beliefs and values, and build a sense of belonging and togetherness in your family. They build a sense of predictability and stability when there are other stresses in your family’s life.

Tips for creating family rules and routines
Here are some suggestions for creating family rules and routines:

  • Involve your child in tasks and chores and let him help work out who does what in your family. This gives him a sense of contributing to family life.
  • Have regular family meetings to get your child involved in making family rules and planning for family events.
  • Adapt routines and rules as your child gets older. This might be as simple as letting your child have a later bedtime or curfew, or letting her make dinner one night a week.
  • As your child reaches adolescence, you can explain that extra independence goes along with extra responsibility.

Good communication in strong families

Families that support each other communicate well about good and bad things. This allows them to celebrate together when times are good and to talk about problems when times are tough.

Good communication in your family is about:

  • encouraging family members to talk to each other – and listening so everyone gets a chance to express how they feel
  • helping children learn words that express their thoughts and wishes, so they know how to ask for what they need or want
  • really listening and responding in a sensitive way to all kinds of things – not just nice things or good news, but also anger, embarrassment, sadness or fear
  • listening to a family member’s problem and empathising, without feeling like you have to solve the problem or give advice
  • learning how to negotiate and compromise when there’s a problem, so everyone gets part of what they want
  • focusing on body language and actions as well as words.

Tips for creating good communication
Here are some suggestions for creating good communication in your family:

  • Try to stop what you’re doing and give your full attention when your child or partner wants to talk to you. If you can’t give your full attention, let the other person know when you can.
  • Leave a note in your child’s lunch box so that he knows you’re thinking of him.
  • Have family meals together as often as possible, at the table with the TV off. This is a time when you can share what’s happening in your lives.
  • When emotions run high, talk to your child about what she’s feeling and ask her what she needs.

Connection to others and strong families

Being connected to other people who care about them is important for children. Valuable connections include your extended family, friends, neighbourhood and community.

Connections help develop children’s self-esteem. They give them a stronger sense of their place in the family, as grandchildren, cousins or nieces and nephews. And being connected to extended family, friends and people in the community helps children learn how to relate to different people.

Other important adults can be a support for the family when times are tough – for example, if there’s a death in the family – or good fun when you go on holiday together or celebrate important occasions.

Being connected to others might also give you options when you need help or advice, want a night out or need someone to look after your child in the school holidays.

Being involved with structured activities in the local community, and helping others, can help your child develop his sense of identity. An example could be helping out with a local conservation group.

Tips for connecting your family to others
Here are some suggestions for connecting your family to others:

  • Encourage your children to see their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. If they live far away, talk to them on the phone, write letters or emails, or make video calls.
  • Invite grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or family friends to school or sporting events that are important to your child – for example, an awards ceremony or performance.
  • Get yourself and your child involved in a local community group or sports club. This gives your child the chance to get to know new people and to see community members working together.

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