Any parent who has spent time building block towers with their kids knows the No. 1 rule to making them last: you need to have a strong base.
It turns out that the same advice applies to families. Having a strong family bond means you’ll be better prepared to weather any storms that come your way.
“That gives you the ability to bounce back when things aren’t so great,” says Gail Innis, an extension educator with Michigan State University Extension who focuses on social and emotional health. “That’s what we’re looking for for families today – to not throw in the towel, to have that brighter outlook to say, ‘We can move ahead because we’ve done it before’ or, ‘We can set a path to move ahead.'”
What exactly makes a family strong? Innis, who has 25 years of experience working with families, recently wrote about the topic and offers the following top tips based on research from the University of Nebraska.
1. Make a commitment
Make your family relationships a priority. “That means limited technology and making sure kids know that you’re there for them and that you’re there face-to-face for them,” recommends Innis, who works out of Sandusky in Michigan’s thumb region.
2. Plan time together
Plan deliberate activities to spend time together as a family. “Not just letting everything happen as it comes along,” she says. Mealtime is a great opportunity. “That would be an excellent place to start for a New Year’s resolution, to make a conscious decision to eat one meal together a day as a family.”
Related tip: Try phone stacking! Have everyone stack their phones in a pile so it’s a screen-free meal.
3. Be intentional
Use mealtimes to talk about how each family member’s day went, including the best and worst things that happened that day. Encourage breathing exercises, stretching or yoga when stressors arise and be mindful of the example you set for your kids. “Children will model the behavior they see,” Innis says.
4. Practice gratitude
Research is strong on the benefits of an “attitude of gratitude,” Innis says. Ask everyone to share what they’re grateful for each evening or encourage your kids to use a gratitude journal, write more thank-you notes or take photos of the little things they appreciate throughout the day. “If each of us were to do this on a regular basis it actually enhances our mood,” she says.
This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated regularly.