At Westchester Health, we know there is no perfect family, or even a “normal” one. Families come in all sizes, ages, genders and colors, but what we have observed in our many years of treating young patients and their families is that healthy, well-adjusted families tend to have several key characteristics in common:
- mutual support
- genuine love and caring for each other
- a sense of security and belonging
- open communication
- confidence within each family member that they are important, respected and valued
What is a functional family? How do you know if you have one?
No family is perfect, not even the “functioning” ones. But even so, here are 12 key qualities according to healthychildren.org that seem to be common attributes of families that interact in healthy ways. Families should encourage and provide:
Each individual member of the family—brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers—is respectful as consistently as possible. Being considerate of each other binds everyone together, especially during hard times.
An emotionally safe environment
All members of the family can state their opinions, thoughts, needs, dreams, desires and feelings without fear of being shamed, teased, belittled or ignored.
A resilient foundation
When relationships between and among members in a family are healthy, they can withstand stress, even trauma, divorce and death, and recover.
Knock and ask permission to enter someone’s room or other closed doors. Be sensitive regarding personal space.
Being accountable means respectfully and reasonably informing people in the family where you are and what you are doing so they can trust you and not worry.
Of course there will be conflict. When family members feel and show remorse for the disagreement and resulting hard feelings, then apologize and ask for and receive forgiveness, this is a healthy way to handle conflict. Families may even become closer because of it.
Allow kids to express anger
In some families, children aren’t allowed to be angry at their parents. Instead, parents should teach their kids to express their anger in a calm, respectful manner and then they need to listen to the grievances with equal respect.
Minimize teasing and sarcasm
Teasing can be OK as long as the one being teased is in on the joke and isn’t being brutally hurt. The same goes for sarcasm. The important thing is not to use “joking” as a way to put each other down.
The ability (and permission) to change and grow
A functional family lets members express their individual differences and then allows them to change as they grow, mature and discover other interests or develop new talents. The adults in the family need to be allowed to grow as well. Mom may go back to school or Dad may decide to retire early and start something new.
Parents are a co-parenting team
A functional family is one where the adults are at the center of the family, in charge and pulling together in the same direction. Kids need the assurance that the family has leaders, and that there is an authority they can turn to and lean on for guidance, direction and help.
11. Eating meals together
Research actually shows that families that share meals together, even if it’s in front of the TV, get along better and are closer.
Follow the Golden Rule
“Treat each other as you want to be treated.” It was true long ago and it’s still true today.
We recommend these helpful articles:
- Normal Functioning Family
- 12 Characteristics of a Well Functioning Family
- What Makes a Family Functional vs Dysfunctional?
Want to know more about how to be a healthy family? Come see us.
If you’re concerned about your family dynamics and/or want more information on how to improve the way family members are treating each other, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. Our #1 goal is to help families, and everyone in them, be as happy and healthy as possible. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
To read Dr. Adler’s blog in full, click here.