Strong families: what they are and why they’re important
Strong families generally have a few things in common:
- warmth, care and positive attention
- good communication
- a predictable family environment
- connections to other people outside the family.
Strong families give children a safe, secure place to be themselves and learn about who they are. Because children in strong families feel secure and loved, they have confidence to explore their world, try new things and learn. And they can deal better with challenges and setbacks because they know they have family support.
Warmth, care and positive attention in strong families
Being warm, caring and affectionate with your child helps to build strong family relationships.
Positive attention is also important for building strong relationships in your family. This is the way you show interest and delight in your children and what they’re doing. Positive attention builds connection and shows your children that you’re available when they need you.
Tips for creating warmth, care and positive attention
Here are some suggestions for creating warmth, care and positive attention in your family:
- Tell your children how much you love them, and look for opportunities to tell them you’re proud of them.
- Smile and look into your children’s eyes when you talk to them.
- Show physical affection when you can.
- Look out for opportunities to 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’.
- Create opportunities for special one-on-one time, doing things you all enjoy. Why not make this special time part of your family routine?
Children from warm, caring and affectionate families get along better with other children and teachers, and are less likely to have conflict with others. Also, plenty of attention and affection makes children feel special, which can help them deal with life’s ups and downs.
Good communication in strong families
Strong families 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. This creates a safe place for children to share difficult feelings like embarrassment, confusion or shame. And it strengthens family members’ relationships with each other.
Here are some tips to encourage good communication in your family:
- Encourage family members to talk to each other – and listen so everyone gets a chance to express how they feel.
- 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.
- Help children learn words that express their thoughts and feelings, so they know how to ask for what they need or want.
- Really listen and respond in a sensitive way to all kinds of things – not just nice things or good news, but also anger, embarrassment, sadness or fear. You don’t always have to solve the problem or give advice.
- Learn how to negotiate and compromise when there’s a problem, so everyone gets part of what they want.
- Focus on your nonverbal communication. You can use positive nonverbal communication like smiles, eye contact and physical affection to strengthen your relationships.
Children learn about good communication from the way you talk to them and others. This includes watching how you manage conflict or solve problems with others. When your children see you sorting out problems calmly and respectfully, you help them develop important skills for life.
Predictable environments in strong families
A predictable, organised family environment can help children feel safe, secure and looked after. In this kind of environment, children know what to expect each day – and what’s expected of them too.
Predictability in your family life is especially good when children are going through challenges, developmental changes or uncertainty. For example, if your child is settling into a new school, your family’s evening routine at home might be very comforting.
Here are some suggestions for creating a safe and predictable family environment:
- Create a family routine so that everyone knows what to expect – who should do what, when, in what order and how often. A family routine can also help you to make time for enjoyable family activities or time with individual children.
- Emphasise your family values – for example, love, respect, acceptance, support for each other, and so on. Family rituals and family rules are good ways to make sure everyone knows what’s important to your family.
Routines can help children with disability, particularly those who find it hard to understand or cope with change.
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 children develop a strong sense of themselves. It gives them a stronger sense of their place in the family, as grandchildren or cousins, and within their community.
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 celebrate birthdays.
Volunteering or being involved with regular activities in your community can help your children develop a 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.
- Get involved in a local community group or sports club. This gives your children the chance to get to know new people and see community members working together.
- 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.
Being connected to friends, family and community is also important for parents. A support network of trusted adults can be a big practical help – for example, when you need someone to pick up your children from school. Your network can give you emotional support too – for example, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or want advice.
Looking after yourself
When you’re focusing on looking after your family, you might forget or run out of time to look after yourself. But when you take time to look after yourself, you’ll have more physical and mental energy to build a strong family.
You can look after yourself by getting enough rest, doing some physical activity, eating a healthy diet and making some time for yourself and your relationship with your partner, if you have one.