How To Know If You Have A Healthy, Well-Functioning Family


Healthy parenting comes from a healthy family, and vice versa

As everyone knows, there is no perfect family, or even a normal one. And yet, while families come in all combinations of sizes, ages, genders and colors, we at Westchester Health Pediatrics have seen over the years that healthy, well-adjusted families tend to have several key characteristics in common:

  • mutual support

    Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

  • 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

How is your family? Does everyone by and large get along and respect each other’s differences, or are there constant conflicts, yelling, bullying and negative interactions?

Here at WHP, we have years of experience helping families develop healthy relationships, including advice and guidance on discipline, sibling rivalry and divorce. To learn about all the services we offer parents to help them raise happy, healthy kids, click here.

6 questions to ask yourself to gauge how well your family functions

  1. Do your family members have fun together, despite all the demands of daily life? Is there humor and laughter?
  2. Does your family have clearly stated rules that are evenly applied, yet are flexible to situations that come up?
  3. Are the family’s expectations of each other reasonable and realistic?
  4. Is each family member’s needs being met?
  5. Do parents and children have genuine respect for one another, demonstrating love, caring, trust and compassion, even when they disagree?
  6. Is your family able to manage change or trauma without anger, arguments or resentment?

If you answered no more than you answered yes, this might be a sign that your family has some work to do to improve the way everyone functions as individuals and as a unit.

What is a functional family? How do you know if you have one?

No family is perfect, not even the “functioning” ones. Often, parents decide how to manage their family by not doing what their parents did. Having said that, here are 12 key qualities that seem to be common attributes of families that function well, from

Functional families encourage and provide:

  1. Respect

Each individual member of the family—brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers—must be respectful as consistently as possible. Being considerate of each other is what binds everyone together, especially during the hard times.

  1. 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.

  1. A resilient foundation

When relationships between and among members in a family are healthy, they can withstand stress, even trauma, divorce and death, and bounce back, or at least recover.

  1. Privacy

Knock and ask permission to enter someone’s room or other closed doors. Be sensitive regarding personal space and don’t get insulted if someone needs some room.

  1. Accountability

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.

  1. Apologies

A functional family will have conflict but when the members involved feel and show remorse for the disagreement and hard feelings, apologize, and ask for and receive forgiveness, this is a healthy way to interact. They may even become closer for it.

  1. Kids’ expression of anger or negative emotions

In some families, kids aren’t allowed to be angry at their parents or they’re punished. Rather, parents should teach them to state their anger in a calm, respectful manner and then listen to their grievances with equal respect, too.

  1. A minimum of teasing and sarcasm

Teasing can be OK as long as the one being teased is in on the joke and isn’t brutally hurt. The same goes for sarcasm. A functional family won’t use either as a poorly masked put-down.

  1. 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. Always, family discussions are a key way to bring up fears or concerns so that everyone hopefully can pull together in accepting the new situation.

  1. Parents as 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, that there is an authority they can turn to and lean on for guidance, direction and help.

11. Eat meals together

So hard to do in today’s society but research does show that communication within a family is enhanced if we take more meals together, even if it’s in front of the TV.

  1. Follow the Golden Rule

“Treat each other as you wish to be treated.” It was true long ago and it’s still true today. Follow it! It will take you far.

Count on us for all kinds of information and advice to help you raise your kids

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether you’re raising teenagers, kids, toddlers or newborns, we’ve got years and years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re ready to help you with yours.

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Want to know more about what makes up 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 Pediatrics pediatricians. Our #1 goal is to help families, and everyone in them, to be as happy and healthy as possible. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball