NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, March 16, 2018

What Are the Characteristics of a Healthy Family?

Articles about family dynamics are mostly focused on dysfunctional families (see my articles: Dynamics of Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families). But, of course, there are also healthy, functional families, and I think it's also worth discussing the characteristics of a healthy family, which is the focus of this article.

What Are the Characteristics of a Healthy Family?

There's no such thing as the "perfect family" and the concepts related to functional and dysfunctional families are really on a spectrum with many families falling somewhere in between (see my article: A "Happy Family" Doesn't Mean a Perfect Family and Happy Families: A Strong Family Narrative Can Help to Build Resilience).

Characteristics of Functional Families:
The following characteristics describe a functional family:
  • A Safe Home Environment:  All family members feel emotionally and physically safe in the family home.  Each member of the family can express his or her feelings respectfully without fear of being ridiculed, criticized, dismissed or belittled.  There is no emotional, physical, sexual or abuse of any kind.  There is no substance abuse or addiction of any kind.
  • Parents Work Together to Co-Parent:  In a healthy family, parents work together as a team. A parent doesn't try to undermine the other parent or try to get children to take his/her side.  Parents work together to co-parent the children, even if they are divorced (see my article:  Co-Parenting After the Divorce).
  • Siblings Are Encouraged to Cooperate With Each Other: In a healthy family, siblings are encouraged to help one another and cooperate with one another (as opposed to a dysfunctional family where children are often pitted against each other). This doesn't mean that there isn't sibling rivalry or that siblings won't argue.  Basically, it means that the children have each other's back.
  • Healthy Values Are Instilled: Parents who instill healthy values, including respect for others who are different from you, are helping their children to grow into healthy individuals.  These values might be spiritual, a formal religion or an overall ethical view of life.  At the very least healthy values include living by the "Golden Rule" of treating others as you would want to be treated (see my article: Living Authentically - Aligned With Your Values and Becoming Your True Self).
  • Coping Skills Are Taught: As part of their natural development, very young children have low frustration tolerance and very little in the way of coping skills.  As children mature, it's the parents' responsibility to teach children healthy coping skills in an age-appropriate way.  By learning healthy coping skills, children grow into adults who can cope with small and large crises that are a normal part of life.
  • Promises and Commitments Are Honored: For children to have a sense of security, it's important for family members to honor their promises and commitments.  While this might not always be possible, placing a high value on keeping promises and commitments will go a long way to fostering a healthy family environment (see my article: Keeping or Your Breaking Your Promises).
  • Mistakes Are Acknowledged: Whether it's the parents or the children who make a mistake, family members acknowledge, take responsibility and make amends (see my article: The Courage to Admit You Made a Mistake).  In addition, parents raise children who are not afraid to make mistakes--as long as the mistakes aren't harmful to others (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes).
  • Healthy Communication is Modeled and Encouraged: Parents model healthy communication with each other.  They encourage their children to talk to them about whatever is bothering them, and children feel safe enough to come to their parents without fear of being belittled or ridiculed.  Parents also communicate to children about changes in the family in an age-appropriate manner (see my article: Talking to Your Young Child About Your Divorce).
  • Disagreements Are Settled in a Respectful WayAll families have times when there are disagreements between family members.  What is most important is how these disagreements are handled and how relationships within the family are repaired if there is a disagreement.  Parents and children respect one another even when they disagree.
    • Time Together is Valued: Family time is valued, including eating meals together as a family as much as possible, celebrating holidays and birthdays together, creating family traditions, and so on.  As children become adolescents, they will want to spend more time with their friends, which is a natural part of being a teenager and wanting more age-appropriate autonomy.  Family time could also include telling stories about extended family and prior generations so that children develop a healthy sense that they are part of a larger family network.
    • Change and Autonomy Are Respected: In a healthy family, parents recognize that their children have their own minds.  As children get older, children might develop values and opinions that are different.  Parents in a healthy family also allow for age-appropriate change and autonomy.  Differences are respected (see my article:  Being the "Different One" in Your Family).
    The concept of a healthy, functional family is on a continuum rather than it being an all-or-nothing issue of being functional or dysfunctional.

    In most cases, rather than worrying to be the "perfect parent," it's important to realize that, to paraphrase Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, you just need to be "good enough."

    I have included the characteristics of a healthy family in this article.  You might think of other characteristics and, if you do, you can drop me a line at the email listed below.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    Whether you're struggling with unresolved childhood issues that are affecting you now or other problems that you've been unable to resolve on your own, you could benefit from attending psychotherapy (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

    A licensed mental health professional can help you to resolve your problems so you can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

    About Me
    I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

    I work with individual adults and couples.

    To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

    To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.