Habits of Healthy Families

Creating healthy family habits can be as simple as eating together regularly or as complex as practicing conflict negotiation skills. These 8 habits are effective, inexpensive and good for the world around you.

Healthy families focus on new goals and new options, according to Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.Covey also believes that healthy families spend time together, build memories, create safety nets for its members, and meet each person’s physical, social, spiritual and economic needs.

Toss the Frisbee Around

Make it a habit to go hiking, practice yoga, or play Frisbee regularly – but don’t set it in stone. Armin Brott, author of Father for Life, says, “Family habits may be hard to establish, especially if you have teens. However, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of time planning events. Simple activities are often the best. Conversations and connection will come naturally out of a low-stress, low-pressure situation.” For more parenting tips, check out Brott’s website, MrDad.com.

Pass the Peas, Please

The University of Minnesota’s Project EAT revealed that teens consume more fruit, veggies, and calcium—and drink less soda—during family meals. Researchers Dianne Neumark-Sztainer and Mary Story have linked family meals with higher academic performance, greater psychosocial well-being and a reduced risk of unhealthy weight loss behaviors. Another study from the same university revealed that girls who eat family meals in a positive environment are less likely to diet chronically, use weight loss pills, or struggle with eating disorders.

Grrr! Get Mad and Live Longer

One aspect of married life is conflict resolution—and most couples aren’t trained for this, according to Ernest Harburg, a professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. His research reveals that couples who suppress anger are twice as likely to face an earlier death than those who express it. Getting mad without hurting your loved ones is a family habit that can improve physical and emotional health. Harburg suggests that suppressed anger influences other morbid systems, including hypertension.

Pick Your Green Battles

Joining forces to positively affect the environment not only gives you a common goal as a family but is also good for the planet. Choose an eco-battle together, such as adopting a nearby park and doing a weekly “garbage march.” Or plant a garden at home or in the community, focusing on organic fruits and veggies. Learn how to compost, and lighten the load on landfills. Once one new behavior becomes a family habit, you can add another—and soon you’ll not only be more united as a family, you’ll be greener, too!

Volunteer Together

“Contributing as a family not only helps [others], but it also strengthens the contributing family in the process,” writes Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. “Can you imagine the bonding, the sense of fulfillment, the sense of shared joy?” Volunteer opportunities include helping out annually at a camp for disabled kids, serving monthly at a food bank, or walking dogs weekly at an animal shelter. To find volunteer opportunities in your city, do an online search for “volunteer [city].”

Seek the Hidden Treasure

A great family habit is experiencing new things such as juggling, geocaching for treasures, or making sushi. Psychology professor Leaf Van Boven from the University of Colorado explains why happiness is found in your life experiences (not your possessions). Experiences are open to positive interpretation, they become a meaningful part of your identity, and they contribute to successful relationships. When you experience something as a family—such as learning a new skill—you build memories that you can reminisce and laugh about later. Those experiences unite you and become part of who you are as a unit, not just as individuals.

Take a Time Out

Parenting specialist Brott schedules regular dates with each of his kids. This reassures them that he’s there for each of them, and it helps him keep in touch with their interests and lives. He says, “Once kids are in school and spending time with friends, parents are often surprised how little they know about their kids’ activities, tastes, interests, friends, political views, etc.” Brott also finds that it’s better to connect with teens on their terms rather than force them to participate in activities they don’t want to do.

End With Your Highs and Lows

Make it a point to discuss the ups and downs in your family and individual lives, and to look for the good in the bad. “During dinner we talk about what we enjoyed best and least that day,” says Tanya, a mother of three on Bowen Island, B.C. “It’s a great way for our kids to listen to each other’s stories and problems, understand that we all experience ups and downs, relate to each other, help find solutions, laugh together, and illustrate that life is like a rollercoaster.”