Risë VanFleet

What makes strong families?

Parents, Professionals

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In 1985, Nick Stinnett and John DeFrain published the results of an extensive research project designed to learn more about the characteristics that were associated with strong families (Secrets of Strong Families, NY: Berkley Books). They identified 3000 strong families throughout the United States and conducted extensive interviews with family members.  The families represented a true cross-section of the population on many dimensions.  After careful analysis, they determined there were six primary features that strong families have in common: 


Family members were committed to their relationships and to helping each member grow as an individual. 


Family members frequently told and showed each other that they appreciated each other, and they were able to be specific about the things they expressed


These families used good communication skills and they communicated frequently with each other.

Fun Time Together

Strong families made time together a priority, and some of that time was spent doing enjoyable, fun things. 

Spiritual Wellness

Whether it was involvement in their own respective religious groups or involvement in inspirational activities such as deep appreciation of nature or music, strong families reported that their spirituality helped them keep perspective on the day-to-day stresses. 

Coping Ability

When these families encountered tough times, they found a way to pull together and support each other rather than being fragmented by crises.

Many children and families are resilient, but in these complex times, sometimes they need a little assistance in overcoming the obstacles in their lives.  One play therapy approach that is designed to strengthen family relationships directly addresses most of the six characteristics listed above.  Filial therapy, in which therapists train and supervise parents as they conduct special child-centered play sessions with their own children, has been shown in 40 years of research and clinical experience to be highly effective in bringing about long-lasting positive change for children and parents alike.  It can be used individually or in group formats, for prevention or intervention with serious problems.  Families who have participated in filial therapy often continue their special play sessions long after formal therapy ends, reporting that both children and parents truly enjoy them! 

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