When it comes to healthy family dynamics, it’s helpful to learn from positive models. Rather than a deficit approach (highlighting what is “wrong” with a family), a more productive and enduring approach is to emphasize family strengths.
According to Dennis Lynn, PhD, who teaches human development and family sciences at Oregon State University – Cascades, the Family Strengths Research Project is one research effort that offers valuable insights into healthy families.
“I often tell my students that most people want a strong family. That’s a nice goal, but a little vague,” Dennis says. “This research reminds us of six specific areas we can focus on immediately, becoming more aware and actively engaged in strengthening our families.”
Dennis participated in this research as part of his doctoral studies at the University of Nebraska. The Family Strengths Inventory has been used with thousands of families in more than 25 countries around the world and reveals six common themes:
- Strong families express appreciation and affection. They speak in positive and affirming ways and express the love they have for each other.
- Strong families have a strong commitment to each other. They are deeply committed to promoting each other’s happiness and welfare and show their commitment by investing time and energy in family activities.
- Strong families spend enjoyable time together. They enjoy being together and know that if they don’t prioritize and schedule time together, it won’t happen. Sometimes, love is spelled t-i-m-e.
- Strong families manage stress and crisis effectively. They are not immune or exempt from difficult days and challenging situations, but they develop strategies so they can pull together, rather than fall apart.
- Strong families have a sense of spiritual well-being. Whatever the expression of their spiritual lifestyle, there are consistent themes of guiding values and ethics, as well as commitment to important causes.
- Strong families have effective and positive communication patterns. They talk to each other and listen to each other and may have specific ground rules on how they communicate in respectful, loving ways.
“Though there are certainly more complex and sophisticated models of successful, healthy, resilient family interactions, I find myself returning to this basic, uncomplicated approach,” Dennis says.
These six themes are helpful for recognizing strengths that might already be in place, he adds, and provide a starting point for developing new areas of strength.
“We sometimes just need a little nudge, a simple reminder of foundational strengths and strategies to keep our families thriving. Any family member can begin today, perhaps by just selecting one quality to target and improve.”
- American family strengths inventory assessment
- Family activity suggestions built around the Family Strengths approach