Ten Habits of Healthy Families


Give your loved ones the gift of togetherness

by Susan Baldani

Between school, work, sports and technology, it’s sometimes hard for families to connect and spend meaningful time together. An important characteristic of healthy families is that they spend time doing enjoyable activities with each other.

“Healthy families tend to select activities that promote the family as being important and help the family to grow closer,” said Richard L. Sale, Ph.D., in the article “Characteristics of Healthy Families.”

There are ways to ensure that this quality time happens regularly by fitting it into the family schedule, the same way you fit in a dentist’s appointment or a baseball game. After a while, many of these activities will become habitual.

“Try planning family ‘dates.’ Enter an official family date on the calendar where everyone can see it. The date can be anything from going to see a movie together to spending an afternoon at the park,” said Karen Kleinschmidt, who has worked with children with ADHD, sensory issues, and behavioral problems.

Here are some positive habits every family can incorporate into their routine:

Play together.

Get down on the floor and play with your child. Or, run around the house playing hide and seek. It doesn’t matter what game you play; your child will be happy to be doing one of his favorite pastimes with you.

“A child just wants to interact with the parent more. That’s the whole point. Playing with other children may be fun, but nothing beats the joy
and satisfaction of getting one’s parent to play with you.”

~ Darcia F. Narvaez, Ph.D., professor of psychology
at the University of Notre Dame.

Eat together.

Whether it’s home-cooked food or takeout, sitting down to eat as a family creates an opportunity to find out about each other’s day. For children, it’s a chance to rejoice in their successes, ask for help with their failures, and share their worries. For parents, it’s a chance to be a part of their children’s everyday lives and to talk about their own experiences.

“When families come together to eat, they create an emotional harmony
that I think is pretty sacred for long-term health.”

~ Dr. Mehmet Oz

Volunteer together.

Giving of your time as a family creates a sense of accomplishment and pride in helping those less fortunate. Have each family member choose a cause meaningful to him or her, and support that person by getting involved. Once everyone sees the differences they’re making, volunteering will hopefully become a family tradition.

“Whether repairing a wall, cleaning up a trail, or staffing a food booth
(or a Girl Scout cookie table), there is something very satisfying about working together. The banter, laughter, and problem-solving that go on strengthen and deepen family relationships.”

~ Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., psychologist and marriage and family counselor.

Laugh together.

Yes, sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Whether it’s watching a funny movie, telling corny jokes, or acting silly, having a good chuckle is something a family can enjoy together.

“In the long term, regular bouts of laughter can lessen anxiety and depression,
in addition to inducing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.”

~ Maryn Liles, editor, Parents magazine.

Exercise together.

Choose something that the whole family can do. It can be as simple as taking a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood or gearing up for a hike in your favorite national park. Leave all electronics in the car and soak up the peace and beauty of nature.

“Today’s parents often bring work home, text on their phones, and complete other activities instead of truly being with their children. Turn off the gadgets, have them do the same, and truly spend time together. Your family’s health depends on it.”

~ Maureen L. Daniels, M.Ed., Director of Wellness at Work
at Berkshire Health Systems.

Cry together.

Sadness and grief are a part of life, but when shared with others, it can help lessen the pain. It also reinforces that it’s okay to show emotion, and not everything always turns out the way we hope.

“Children are resilient, but they have feelings too. Adults can help children identify and process what they feel. Validate that what they are experiencing
is real. Let them know they are not alone.”

~ Dr. Christina Hibbert, clinical psychologist.

Pray together.

If your family is religious and/or finds comfort in prayer, why not make time to do it as a family? Prayers can be said out loud and shared, or said in silence.

“Be sure to teach the families to pray all together — father, mother, and children. For the family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as Jesus loves each one of them . . .”

~ Mother Teresa

Read together.

Whether it’s a bedtime story, the Bible, or a chapter book such as Harry Potter, reading out loud allows children and adults to visualize the actions taking place. It also strengthens a child’s aptitude in literacy and helps build a love of books.

 “Through reading, we learn empathy, compassion, respect, and understanding. How lucky we are as parents to be able to give our children those skills
by doing something as simple and enjoyable as reading.”

~ Corinne Canning, editorial and marketing specialist at National PTA.

Be affectionate together.

There’s something about touch that relays love and caring. Sometimes when words are not enough, a warm embrace can make the world a nicer place.

“Make sure your loving arms are always open.
They will become a powerful, life-changing security blanket.”

~ Sue Atkins, parenting expert.

Learn a new skill together.

Whether it’s yoga, painting, or a foreign language, show your children that it can be fun to learn something new. Pick something that works with everyone’s schedule and make a point to attend every class until the skill is mastered. Children will not only learn a new skill, but also recognize how dedication to a task equals success.

“Tell me and I forget.
Teach me and I remember.
Involve me and I learn.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine in Virginia.

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