Six key characteristics to strong families
I teach a class at Arizona Western College called The Family. I love teaching this class because we learn how to strengthen families — the building blocks of neighborhoods, communities and nations.
For the past two years, I have divided my students into "families." The “families” are responsible for supporting each other throughout the entire semester.
One student commented on this experience by saying, "My real family lives several hours from Yuma. They are not able to come to my games very often. I loved it that my 'pretend family' was at the game to cheer for me. It made me so happy to see my 'brothers and sisters' in the stands cheering me on. They sat together and made big signs with my name on them! I am slowly learning that being part of a family is a huge responsibility. I used to only think about myself but now I have to think about three other people!"
Sometimes these students may have to stop playing video games in order to make it to a "family function.” If one member of the family is sick, they are asked to gather crackers, soda and soup for that person. This teaches the students about responsibility and accountability. They are practicing being part of a family.
My class spends a lot of time discussing family strengths. What exactly is it that makes a family strong? In "Secrets of Strong Families," John DeFrain and Nick Stinnett identified the following six characteristics of strong families.
Family members spend quality time with each other.
• Read together
• Prepare meals together
• Ride a bike or take a walk together
• Go camping, fishing, or hiking
• Attend a movie or sporting event
• Go to a museum
• Visit friends or relatives
Strong families are committed to one another.
• Discover and encourage your children's activities and interests
• Remind children that you are there for them
• Work together to solve problems
Family members show each other appreciation.
• Tell your family that you love them
• Say thank you when they complete family chores
• Leave notes of appreciation for family members
Communication skills are good in strong families.
• Use “I” statements when working through problems
• Ask your family members about their day using questions that require more than a one-word response
• Avoid interrupting one another and really listen when someone is talking
• Turn off the television and eat dinner together
Crises and stress are viewed as opportunities for growth.
• Work on handling your own stress in a positive manner to provide a model for your children
• Encourage one another throughout a crisis
• Talk about what will be learned from the experience and how that can strengthen the family
Family members value spirituality.
• Discuss your family views on spirituality
• Practice your family's view on spirituality whether it is appreciating nature by hiking or attending organized religious activities
No family is perfect and there is not a right way to be a family. Our families will be stronger when we become responsible and accountable for the choices we make each day. It is important that we spend time together, stay committed to our family members, show appreciation toward one another, learn effective ways to communicate, understand that even the difficult experiences in our lives can strengthen us and find a spirituality that offers lasting peace. Never forget that your family is the building block of your neighborhood, your community and your country.
Christina Hawkey is a professor of family studies at Arizona Western College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.