Enhancing Family Strengths

A lot of effort is needed to keep the family operating. Even more effort is required to enhance and affirm the strengths in a family. Just as proper diet and exercise combine to make you feel, look, and function more efficiently, there are certain contributions each family member can make to help create a stronger, healthier, and more satisfying family life.

In addition to those family strengths discussed in Lesson 5, here are some of the factors that characterize strong, healthy families:

  • A satisfying marriage relationship;
  • The sharing of family power;
  • Open family communications;
  • Acceptance and appreciation of each other;
  • Quality time together;
  • Conflict management; and
  • A good family spirit.
The Marriage Relationship

More than any other single factor, the quality of family life in two-parent families is reflected in the marriage relationship. The wife's and husband's ability to communicate, negotiate, and show their love and affection toward each other provides a positive role model for their children. Children learn much of their own behavior by observing how their parents relate to each other. In this way, the marriage relationship becomes the primary component in the development of healthy family relationships.

Shared Family Power

Power in healthy families is shared. This means that family decisions and rules are made with the input of each person. It is not necessary for the father or mother to always dictate orders. Each family member is allowed to express opinions, generate ideas, and make suggestions. The family still needs a leader, but no one person dominates all of the time. This type of "power sharing" gives freedom to every member by allowing each individual to express himself or herself. And this sharing has many positive results:

  • Feelings of trust and cooperation develop;
  • The cohesiveness of the family becomes stronger; and
  • A greater number of solutions are offered that can contribute to more effective decision making.

In essence, "sharing power" is "caring power" and is an important way to build a satisfying family life.

Family Communication

Communication affects everything that goes on between people.
It determines what kinds of relationships are formed and how each person is perceived.

Conversation in healthy families is spontaneous, meaningful, clear, and specific.
Ideas and information are continually bounced back and forth. A family member can openly express all kinds of emotions and knows that usually someone can and will listen and respond appropriately.

Listening is a valuable tool that indicates concern about another family member.
Unfortunately, few people take time to listen beyond the words-with the heart as well as the ears. But in order to communicate effectively in a family, attentive listening is essential. It opens doors by building feelings of respect and trust. Together, good speaking and listening skills form a solid foundation from which a family can begin to function more effectively.

Table Talk Activity
Strong families discuss a variety of topics and listen to each others' responses. This activity is a simple way to enhance family communication. It can be done around the kitchen table at mealtime, while traveling in the car, or any other place you are together.

Cut apart the Table Talk cards at the end of this lesson and place them face down on the table. Take turns drawing a card from the stack. Read one card to the family group and, starting with the person to the left of the reader, go around the table, giving each person a chance to answer. Respond to each other in accepting and encouraging ways. Have a good time but don't allow teasing, ridicule, or angry arguments. These negative responses turn people off. Use only as many cards as you can comfortably discuss in the time you have. Save the rest for another time. Add cards if you enjoy this activity. Be creative and come up with topics your family will enjoy discussing. If you enjoy Table Talk, tell other family members how you feel. Expressions of appreciation help build family strengths.

Acceptance and Appreciation

Every family is made up of a variety of personalities, each playing an important part in the life of the family. Therefore, it is essential that all members develop a strong positive attitude about themselves and about each member of the family-dad, mom, sister, brother. Being accepted by others helps develop a person's selfconcept and generates feelings of being important, loved, and appreciated.

Every family should recognize the individual accomplishments of each member. Simple statements such as, "Thank you for helping me; you did a nice job!" can convey appreciation for each member's efforts. This type of recognition helps set up a pleasant environment in which mutual respect can grow.

T.V. Time Activity
Talk about what makes up a family; then discuss the kinds of families that are shown on TV. List programs about families. Which family is most like yours? Are families pictured in a realistic way? Why or why not? Ask your children which TV family they would like to be a part of and why. In what ways is your family better than families on TV?

Quality Time

It requires a great deal of energy and work for a family to provide a positive environment in which members can grow up. Planning a specific time and place each week for family members to be together is beneficial.

Time should also be set aside for the family to work or play together. To help encourage the scheduling of quality time, the family must develop an action plan that fits their particular needs. Some suggestions:

  • Spend 30 minutes every week alone with each member. Talk with, listen to, and enjoy each other. Get to know each other as a special person who cares about you and other family members.
  • Take a regular "night out" away from the kids. Time together as a couple is important for the growth of the entire family.
  • Plan a family fun time each week. Try to do something that everyone can enjoy and benefit from. Do not emphasize winning, but instead stress having fun together. Try the following activity, All About Us.

All About Us Activity
This is an interesting activity to learn more about the other members of your family. When everyone is together, see if each family member can fill in the following blanks for other family members. For example, what is Dad's favorite kind of music? Did you guess correctly? Do you learn something new about other family members?

Favorite food:_______________________________


Favorite kind of pet:_________________________

Most prized possession:_______________________

Best friend (outside of family):__________________________

Last book read for fun:_______________________

Favorite kind of music:_______________________

Best vacation ever taken:_____________________

Dream vacation:____________________________

Favorite famous person:______________________

Growth Through Conflict
Individuals who have unique personalities and who are trying to develop a meaningful family life will experience conflict. This is normal. It is not conflict itself that presents the problem. Instead, what really matters is how families deal with conflict. Healthy families handle conflict in a creative and nondestructive way. They recognize issues early and make decisions based on the input of each family member. They consider each person's ideas carefully and weigh the consequences of different alternatives.

Members of a healthy family do not give in to conflict or feel intimidated by it.
Every family member is allowed to express his or her opinion without the fear of being rejected. When real negotiation takes place, the members feel a deeper sense of what being in a family means, and all benefit from going through conflict and decision making together.

Deciding to Decide Activity
The purpose of this activity is for family members to discuss how decisions are made in the family-those that are made satisfactorily and those that could be improved.

Give each person a paper and pencil to make his or her decision lists. First, each person lists the areas where he or she has total control over a decision (examples: sports activities, decorating rooms, clothes selection, food choices, etc.). Next, list decisions that an individual has little or no control over. How does each person feel about that? What changes could be made? Finally, what decisions could the family be making more efficiently? Discuss ideas such as vacations, meals, chores, money matters. What decision-making guidelines are needed?

Family Spirit

A family operates more smoothly when everyone shares feelings of affection for each other and enjoys being together as a family. In some families, members don't want to be associated with each other, but in healthy families they are proud to belong.

In healthy families, members think of each other as friends with whom they can talk and have fun. They enjoy each other as people and like being together. They use their time and energy to become more aware of their own resources and those of other family members. They work hard to develop their potential as a more satisfying and healthy family, and they recognize that functioning together as a family unit is not always easy.

Quite often, it is the difficult times that bring them closer together and the fun times that help keep them that way.

Share the Highs Activity
It is normal to have "lows" and lots of "middles" along with the "highs" of day-to-day family life. This activity concentrates on strengthening the "highs" so they will happen more often and will be appreciated.

Each person can talk about the times he or she enjoys living in your family the most. It may be a specific time, like "our family camping trip," or a type of time like "whenever Dad takes a day to do stuff with us kids." Then everyone has a chance to share and talk about the differences and similarities of the "highs." What are some ways your family can work to have even more "highs?"

Family Life

Now you know the essentials of a healthy family. To what extent are these qualities a part of your family? The Family Life Inventory Activity can help you assess and enhance the health and well being of your own family life. Remember, even if a family's lifestyle seems satisfactory, there is always room for improvement!

Family Life Inventory Activity
This inventory could be completed in two ways- (1) family members could complete the inventory individually and then compare perceptions, or (2) the family could work together to come up with a group rating on each quality.

For each of the seven areas in the inventory, evaluate your family's relationship in terms of how satisfied you are with it right at this moment. Use a 1 to 10 scale.

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

  Not         Somewhat           Very
satisfied    satisfied         satisfied
 at all                         at this

Place your rating under the column marked actual. After completing this for each of the seven areas, compare the actual with the ideal. Place the difference between the scores in the unrealized potential column. You can see then the potential in your family for each individual quality. Total all scores in each column and compare them. The total score in the unrealized potential column refers to how much more healthy and satisfied your family could be overall.

Have each family member look at the difference in ratings and discuss what your potential as a family could be. Let each member participate in determining where the problem spots are and what has caused them. Then, write out a plan of action that will enhance your satisfaction and help you develop your family's unrealized potential. This means writing out what you are going to do, who will do it, and when it will be done. Don't expect miracles at once though. Give your plan time to work.

  Actual Ideal Potential
Marriage relationship 10  
Shared family power   10  
Open system of communication   10  
Acceptance and appreciation of individual members   10  
Quality time spent together   10  
Creative use of conflict   10  
Positive family spirit   10  
Total   70  


Lesson 6 ends the Stress of Our Lives Series. We hope it has provided useful information and skills on dealing with stress facing families today-both as an individual and as a family. If you wish more information on coping with stress, contact your local county Extension office.

Additional Reading

Family Time: A Revolutionary Old Idea by G. Nutt, Des Plaines, Ill.: Million Dollar Round Table, 1977.

The Hug Therapy Book by K. Keating, Minneapolis, Minn.: CompCare Publications, 1983.

The Hug Therapy Book 2 by K. Keating, Minneapolis, Minn.: CompCare Publications, 1987.

Liking, Loving and Relating by C. Hendrick, Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole Publishers, 1983.

Self-Esteem: A Family Affair by J. Clarke, Minneapolis, Minn.: Winston Press, Inc., 1978.

Stress for Success by P. Hanson, M.D., New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1989.

Study Questions

Lesson 6
Keeping the Family Operating

1. What are the characteristics of strong, healthy families?

2. Positive communication is important in healthy families. What are some better ways of saying the following statements?

Instead of this: Try this:
a. Don't run in the house!  
b. Don't hit the dog!  
c. You missed four on your test!  
d. Go finish that chore!  
e. Don't get so emotional!  

3. Becoming a good listener takes concentration. List ideas to improve listening skills.

4. List ways to tell family members they have done a "good job."

Study Answers

Lesson 6
Keeping the Family Operating

1. A satisfying marriage relationship, the sharing of family power, open family communication, accepting and appreciating each other, spending time together, managing conflict, and a good family spirit.


Instead of this: Try this:
a. Don't run in the house!  Remember that running is for outside
b. Don't hit the dog!  Be gentle; pet the dog like this.
c. You missed four on your test!  You got 46 right on your test!
d. Go finish that chore!  I need to have that chore finished by (time).
e. Don't get so emotional!  I bet that really embarrassed you.

3. Stop what you are doing and pay attention to the other person, be aware of facial expressions and gestures, listen until they have finished and don't think ahead to what you are going to say, keep trying.

4. Here are some additional ways to say "good job":

  • Good work!
  • Terrific!
  • You did very well!
  • You are really working hard!
  • Great!
  • Good for you!
  • Keep it up!
  • I'm proud of you!
  • That makes me feel good!
  • I like that!
  • You're really going to town!
  • Much better!
  • Wonderful!
  • Super!!

Other comments:

Let's Talk

If you could go back in time, what period would you choose and why? If you could sleep for the next 20 years, what do you think life would be like when you woke up? If you were the guest on a TV talk show, what would you want to talk about and why?
Tell what you expect from your best friend. Tell what family activity you most enjoy and why. Tell which TV ad is your favorite? Which is your most hated?
What is your favorite room in your house and why? If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do? Tell something about your family that makes you feel proud.
Tell what part of a newspaper you read first and why. Your family just inherited $1,000,000. What is something you'd want to do with it? Who is the fairest person you know? What is his or her secret?
What's one thing you really want to do in your lifetime? What is one habit you wish to overcome? Tell how you think a birthday should be observed.
If you were President of the United States, what is one thing you would do? Your family decides to watch no TV for a month. What will you do instead? What is one thing that happened to you this week that you feel good about?
What is your favorite holiday and why? What is the scariest thing that ever happened to you? Tell about something you made that turned out pretty good.

Home Study Course

Reaction Form

Please take a few minutes to answer the brief questions that follow. This may be returned to your local county Extension office.

1. As a direct result of this program, has your way of thinking about this topic changed for the better?
_____ Yes _____ No
Please explain:

2. As a direct result of this program have you done anything differently that you consider an improvement?
_____ Yes _____ No
Please explain:

3. Have you experienced problems in using what you learned?
_____Yes _____ No
Please explain:

4. As a direct result of this program I have a better understanding of stress.
_____ Yes _____ No

I am better able to recognize and control negative stress.
_____ Yes _____ No

I have completed a plan of action to manage stress.
_____ Yes _____ No

We have successfully resolved a family conflict.
_____ Yes _____ No

We have tried _____ of the activities to build family strengths.
_____ Yes _____ No

County in which you live:__________________

Sex: ____Male ____Female


____ under 21   ____ 51-60
____ 21-30      ____ 61-70
____ 31-40      ____ over 70
____ 41-50

Other comments:





This lesson was revised by Brenda J. Thames, EdD, Program Development Specialist, and Deborah J. Thomason, EdD, Family and Youth Development Specialist, Department of Family and Youth Development. These materials were originally adapted by Lucy J. Pearson from the "Stress on the Farm Home Study Course" prepared by Randy Weigel, Catherine Hoag, Marilyn Schnittjer, and Barb Abbott, Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University of Science and Technology. The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, or disability and is an equal opportunity employer. Clemson University Cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture and South Carolina Counties. Issued in Furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More