published Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Baumgardner: Several traits help build happy, healthy families

By Julie Baumgardner

Have you ever had one of those moments where everything seems to be going right and, all of the sudden, for some unexplained reason, a meltdown occurs? It could be your 4-year-old, your 14-year-old or even yourself. A perfectly fine moment ripped to shreds in seconds and you ask yourself, "Why me? I don't recall signing up for all this drama."

This is one of those good news, bad news moments. The bad news is meltdowns come with the territory. Any parent who has walked the road will tell you that even with the "easy child" there are trying moments.

The good news is you're not alone. If you compared notes with families everywhere, you would find that everybody deals with drama. Some of them just have less of it. And that's what people want: less drama, more fun and adventure as a family.

Experts examined the qualities of healthy, happy families and found that there are specific things that families can do to decrease drama and increase family well-being.

The ability to problem-solve tops the list. Couples and families who are able to identify a problem and agree on a solution tend to do better over time.

Second is affirmation. Families who verbally express high regard for one another and show interest in other family members and what is happening in their lives tend to be healthier.

Open communication is the third important quality. Weekly family meetings where schedules, chores and issues are discussed teach children how to express their feelings appropriately, how to listen to others and how to problem solve.

The fourth characteristic is well-defined boundaries and organization in the family. Boundaries and structure provide security for children, which helps them feel in control and safe.

Fifth are family rituals and traditions. Studies show that family meals, no matter when they occur, can improve educational performance, lower depression rates in girls and boys, decrease the risk of alcohol and drug abuse and help children to feel more connected. Family traditions connect children with family history, giving them a foundation upon which to build future generations.

Trust is the sixth characteristic. Children and adults in a healthy family environment experience high levels of trust. Spouses place trust in each other and model what it means to be trustworthy in a relationship. Children learn they can count on their parents to meet their needs.

Sexuality is the seventh quality. Age-appropriate, ongoing conversations about body image, the opposite sex and healthy relationships are common in healthy families.

Family history is another predictor of family health. Children who are loved and nurtured typically grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults.

Ninth on the list are religion, faith and values. Sharing the same faith beliefs and values plays a significant role in family health.

Rounding out the top 10 is community connectedness. Families who are well-connected in the community, who know where to find help in times of need, appear to be healthier than those who are disconnected.

The more of these characteristics a family has, the more likely it is to be resilient in difficult times. Healthy families find ways to adapt and adjust and stick together as a team no matter what life hands them.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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