What makes a family strong?
Lucy Schrader, Building Strong Families Program Coordinator, University of Missouri Extension
Researchers believe that a combination of traits makes a family strong rather than just one single characteristic. Strengths come from how family members interact with each other, how they treat one another, and what families do as a group and as individuals to support the adults and children in the family.
In the August 2002 Child Trends Research Brief, researchers looked at family strengths data from two national surveys1 and found that adolescents and parents reported:
- being close to each other
- feeling concern and caring for one another
- interacting with each other
Their information suggests that the more strengths a family has, the better off the children will be. The researchers found a relationship between the following strengths and positive outcomes for children.2
Strengths related to what families do:
- Positive mental health in parents
Children whose parents say that they feel calm, peaceful or happy are more likely than other children to be positively involved in school and less likely to act out or have emotional problems.
- Everyday routines
Families that tend to have regular routines and roles usually have children who do well in school and have greater self-control. Keeping these everyday routines (like eating together and doing household tasks) is associated with positive outcomes for adolescents. They are more likely to avoid delinquent behavior and less likely to use drugs.
- Spending time together
Having fun with one's family is related to better outcomes for adolescents. Again, adolescents are more likely to avoid delinquent behavior and less likely to use drugs. Quality time is important for happiness in family relationships.
- Communication and praise
Positive communication (being warm, respectful and interested in a child's opinions) is associated with the well-being of children. Two-way communication can encourage healthy behavior in adolescents.
Adolescents who have parents that use praise and who go to their parents for advice are less likely to have behavioral and emotional problems.
- Monitoring, supervision and involvement
When parents use praise and encouragement, show awareness and monitor adolescents' schoolwork and social life, their children tend to do better in school and show more socially positive behaviors.
Strengths related to family relationships:
- Warm and supportive relationships between the parent
Warm and supportive relationships with parents are associated with good adolescent outcomes. Adolescents with these types of relationships are less likely to be suspended from school, are less likely to have behavioral and emotional problems, and are less likely to abuse substances.
The study of the two national surveys appears to show that several family strengths are related to positive results for how children and adolescents develop. How family members treat each other (their relationships) and what they do (behaviors) seem to be important factors of family strengths. It takes more than just one factor to make a family strong.
Often the media, government reports, and research studies focus only on the negative aspects of families. Many families, however, are strong and thriving. They support each other, face challenges, and do a great job of raising their children. This Child Trends Brief tries to recognize those families who have many strengths.
For more information:
Child Trends, www.childtrends.org
Building Strong Families: Challenges and Choices Program, http://extension.missouri.edu/bsf/
Moore, K.A., Chalk, R., Scarpa, J., & Vandivere, S. (2002, August). Family strengths: Often overlooked, but real. Washington, DC: Child Trends.
1 The two surveys are the initial round of the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (in-person survey of more than 9,000 U.S. adolescents 12-16 years of age) and the National Survey of America's Families (a phone survey of U.S. parents or parent figures).
2 Moore, Chalk, Scarpa, & Vandivere found correlational associations between the measures and positive outcomes for child or adolescent development. They are not saying that a certain family strength caused a specific outcome.
Last Updated 11/21/2011