Marilyn Lopes
Extension Specialist, Family Life Education
Cape Cod Extension
University of Massachusetts

Copyright/Access Information

[“STRONG FAMILIES” was originally written and published as a series of short newsletter articles. We have combined them into one document for the NNCC Website, but they sections may be reproduced individually, as originally intended. NNCC Web editors]


1. Make a “dream board.” Cut out pictures of three to six things you and your family want and post them on your dream board. Each week choose an item from the board and find out more about it – its cost, where to buy it, and how it would benefit your family.

2. Have a family meeting to create a budget that allows for both necessary items and items from your dream board.

3. Make a list of ways that your family might reduce spending or increase income. Ask everyone in the family to select one of the ways and stick to it for one week.

4. Talk about goal-setting as a family.

5. Learn a new skill as a family.


A binding force of family relationships is love. A healthy family strengthens that bond by trusting, supporting, and caring for each other. Trusting each other builds the confidence of each family member. Supporting each other encourages cooperation and a feeling of togetherness between
members. Caring for each other lets each person know that the entire family will help in time of need.


1. Say “I love you” often.
2. Give meaningful compliments.
3. Give at least three hugs a day.
4. Do a task without being asked.
5. Say to yourself, “I did that well.”
6. Listen with your full attention.
7. Give yourself 10 minutes of free time.


Everyone wants a healthy family. One of the best ways you can help keep your family healthy is to teach them healthy eating habits. Planning nutritious meals together and teaching your children the nutritional value of different foods are enjoyable and fun ways to keep your family healthy and happy. Letting each family member help shop for groceries and prepare meals and then eat together around the dinner table promotes healthy eating and stronger family relationships.


1. Make up a “Favorite Family Meals” list.

2. Some fun foods to make and eat:

  • HAPPY FACES: Melt a cheese slice on toast. Make the eyes and mouth with
  • BANANA BOATS: Split the peel of a ripe banana. Sprinkle the banana with
    graham cracker crumbs, chocolate or carob chips, and marshmallows. Heat in
    microwave for about 30 seconds.
  • THREE BLIND MICE. On your favorite crackers, put three raisins and a
    long, curly chow mein noodle on top. Cover with cheese and microwave for 30
    seconds until the cheese melts.

3. Have a picnic indoors on a rainy day.

4. Have family members decorate the table with decorations of balloons,
construction paper, sea shells, etc. to suit a theme.


If there is one thing you can count on, it's change. And change can bring stress – which can be good or bad. If there isn't too much change at one time and if you can cope with the change, the stress will help you move on to new things. But stress becomes a problem when too many things change too quickly and you don't have time to adjust. Activities families do together can help them cope with stress.


1. Walk briskly several blocks away from home. Turn around and walk just as briskly back home.

2. Talk of pleasant things while walking – the fun times you've had in the past, gifts given and received, hopes fulfilled, friends you'd like to see, funny incidents you can laugh at without hurting anyone's feelings.

3. Send a greeting card to someone you haven't heard from in a long time. Let each family member write a note on it.

4. Get your family to make a favorite dessert list for the week. Each day, serve something on the list.

5. Let each family member make a gratitude list and share it with the rest of the family.


Begin early teaching your children to share with others and help take responsibility for family activities. Young children learn by helping to put silverware and napkins on the table, picking up toys and putting them away, or storing clean clothes in a drawer. Build your family's interest in
responsibility by showing your appreciation for every member's contributions. Be consistent in expecting participation, and allow members to choose their own tasks.

Often adults share responsibility for the care of aging parents. Having a family meeting, including all siblings and their spouses, to discuss the details and responsibilities of each member will create more family unity.


1. Have a family meeting.

2. Identify and organize tasks to be shared.

3. Value each member's opinions, and get suggestions on what needs to be done.

4. Clarify problems caused when someone doesn't carry through with

5. Let all members have appropriate responsibilities, even if jobs are not
done to your satisfaction.

6. Develop a weekly job chart, listing the responsibilities of all family
members, including adults.


Building friendships within the family is very important for creating stronger family bonds. What do friends do? They talk with each other. They listen. They share common interests. They have fun together. They help each other. Benefits of building friendships within the family include closer, more enjoyable family relationships and a greater ability of each family member to deal effectively with crises and stress.


1. Plan a vacation (even if it is only a day trip) that will offer something enjoyable for each family member.

2. Support each other's interests. For example, go to your child's karate practice sometimes.

3. Have a family fun night. Play cards or board games. Put together a puzzle or bake cookies.

4. Plant a small vegetable or flower garden together.

5. Help other family members with their chores, projects, or problems.

6. Talk with other family members about their interests, goals, dreams, and concerns. Really listen!


Strong families tend to be closely involved with schools, religious groups, and other local organizations that promote the well-being of the community. Strong families also participate in decisions that affect their own lives and well-being. Taking a stand on a community issue – and letting elected officials know it – can influence laws and regulations families must live by. Teaching children how to get involved in this process helps them becomeresponsible citizens.


1. Choose an older person or couple to help. Rake leaves, care for their lawn or garden, clean or repair their house, or read to them if they cannot see well.

2. Choose a current public issue that your family can support or oppose. Have each family member write a letter to a local official, a school board member, a legislator, or even the President about it!

3. Call hospitals, area agencies on aging, nursing homes, or youth groups to find out about volunteer opportunities for your family.

4. Visit a town or city council meeting, state legislature, or even the U.S. Congress! Watch laws being made; talk to a lawmaker; learn the process for making policies and laws and how you can influence the outcome.


Like physical fitness, family fitness has three main components: flexibility, strength, and endurance. If your family is flexible, you can adapt to the many changes that occur in the world around you and to the changes that occur within your family. If your family is strong, you will stick together through tough times as well as through times when things are going well. Your family will also support each member's efforts and interests. If your family has endurance, you will always be there for each other.

Like physical fitness, family fitness takes exercise. Activities suggested for this month can be thought of as exercises to promote the flexibility, strength, and endurance of your family.


1. Hold family meetings each week. Have the whole family decide the time for the meeting, and keep it the same from week to week. Choose a different family member to be the leader for each meeting. Discuss both positive and negative things that happen in the family, but always try to end the meeting on a positive note.

2. Eat at least one meal – preferably the evening meal – together each day. Make sure the television is off.

3. Plan a family outing each week. It could be a movie, a picnic, a sporting event, or whatever your family likes to do together.

4. Plan a major end-of-summer event for the family.

5. Exercise together: walk, ride bicycles, skate – whatever your family likes best.

6. Attend religious services or community events as a family.


Strong families communicate well. They talk frequently, openly, clearly, and directly. They share their feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, experiences, growth, and needs. They also listen and respond to what others say. They encourage people to take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Family members regularly discuss values that are important to them; parents are good examples of these values.

Work on improving family communication by taking time to talk. Talk while driving the car or sharing household chores, before bedtime, or instead of watching television. Learn to talk effectively. Balance honesty with concern for others' feelings. Be a good listener. Put aside your own views, and really try to understand the point of view of the other person.


1. Enjoy several evenings together without television, video, or radio.

2. Give family members your complete attention when they talk to you. Practice “active listening” – that is, every few minutes, briefly sum up what you think the other person is saying. Let the other person tell you if you got it right or if there is more to it.

3. Let your words and body language say “I love you, I support you,” instead of “I'm bored with you. I don't care about what you have to say.”

4. Share two of your favorite activities during the month with at least one other family member.


One way of strengthening your family's bonds is to recognize the importance of family pride and loyalty. These values promote family stability and enable you to celebrate each other's successes.

Pride in your family's heritage encourages you to seek out your roots and explore your attachment to the generations before you. This pride also includes humility – the feeling that comes when you realize that you are part of something greater than yourself.


1. Make and display a family tree.

2. Do an oral history of your family. Interview older relatives and tape record what they say. Ask them about memories of school, chores, work, travel, courtship, marriage, children, and grandchildren.

3. Write your family history. Encourage each family member contribute. Add stories from the oral history.

4. Attend programs, sports events, or other activities that involve family members. Cheer for each other.

5. Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and promotions.


Spending time together is an important part of building the strength of your family. Children and adults feel a sense of belonging when they can play, work, laugh, and cry together. Family traditions such as holidays, birthdays, trips, and special family events build memories. Children learn to bring balance to their lives when they see their parents setting aside time for what they value. They also learn how much they are valued and loved when their parents give them what counts most – their time.


1. Pick an afternoon or evening, and allow family members to choose their favorite games. Play as many as you have time for. Set another date later in the month to play the others.

2. Attend a local Veteran's Day parade. Talk about family members who served in the military.

3. Assign each family member a duty in preparation for Thanksgiving, such as sending invitations, planning the menu, setting the table, arranging a centerpiece, grocery shopping, or food preparation.

4. Plan a day to clean the yard as a family. Give each member an appropriate task, such as raking leaves, planting bulbs, making repairs, touching up paint, stacking firewood, or cleaning gutters.


During the holiday season, people often believe that the only gift they can give is something expensive or store bought. It is not necessary to spend money to give someone a meaningful gift. A handmade gift or a promise to babysit once a month can be more meaningful than a gift you buy. Remember, the best gifts come from the heart.

Here are some holiday gifts to make:

  • Use your hobby skills, such as painting or woodworking, to make unique holiday gifts.
  • Give a package of coupons redeemable for chores you'll do during the year: wash the car, clean the garage, cut the grass, vacuum the house, iron the clothes. There are many chores to choose from!
  • Write a letter to each family member. Include things you appreciate about that person, fun memories shared together, and shared jokes. Type the letters, make covers for them, and wrap them as gifts. They'll still be treasured when store-bought gifts are long forgotten.
  • Put together a photograph album with pictures of family activities from year to year. This is an ideal gift for a grandparent or a grown child who has left home.


1. Address and mail holiday greeting cards.

2. Work together on gift ideas.

3. Visit a friend or a relative who lives alone or in a nursing home.

4. Adopt a family through your church or other local organization. As a
family shop, wrap, and deliver gifts for them.

National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC.
(1994). Strong families series. In M. Lopes (Ed.) CareGiver News
(January-December). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Cooperative

Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved by the author .

Gretchen May
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
206 Skinner Hall
Amherst, MA 01003
VOICE: 413-577-0332
FAX: 413-545-1002

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