Characteristics of Healthy Families

Characteristics of Healthy Families
by Richard L. Sale, Ph.D .

Surveys have been conducted over a period of several years throughout the United States asking individuals to list the characteristics of a healthy family. Those surveyed included professionals who work with families, families of different structures (including traditional, single-parent and blended), urban and rural residents, a variety of economic levels, different ethnic groups and both religious and non-religious families. The following characteristics of healthy families summarize the results of the surveys.

  • Commitment. It is important that all family members are committed to the family and to each other. Husbands and wives who are committed to the marriage have found a major way of keeping the marriage going. It is important that the family comes first over those outside of the family. Rather than letting outside activities take prominence over the family, those activities that do should be eliminated. Healthy families tend to select activities that promote the family as being important and help the family to grow closer.
  • Time Together. Healthy families are ones that spend time together. The amount of time is often as important as the activity chosen. One important event that is often lacking in many families today is a family meal time. Healthy families spend this time being together, enjoying a meal and talking about what is going on in each of their individual lives. These families also spend time playing together and doing activities that all of the family members enjoy doing. Healthy families also have created family traditions including celebrating birthdays, holidays and other important events.
  • Communication. An important aspect of a healthy family is communication. This involves listening to and supporting one another. It is important for parents to listen to their children as much as they expect their children to listen to them. Communication also involves conflict which is a part of every family. The healthy family is able to fight fairly and resolve conflicts that do occur.
  • Appreciation. In healthy families there is an admiration for each other. Families respect one another and appreciate what each member of the family contributes. The accomplishments of each family member is valued by the others. Each family member looks for the good in the rest of the family.
  • Spirituality. Although not all of those surveyed were members of a particular church or religion, they still felt that spirituality was important. These families had a sense of spiritual well-being. Parents are expected to teach their children right from wrong and present good examples of behavior for their children. It is also important for parents to teach their children how to make moral choices for themselves as they mature.
  • Coping Skills. Healthy families are able to deal with crisis situations that may occur. Crises in families may be small or large, but healthy families are able to find solutions to their problems. They often depend upon one another for the support that they need. When healthy families cannot solve their problems they are willing to go outside of the family for solutions.

Policy-makers should consider that:

  • Families may need to be taught what it means to be healthy. Many people will create families like the family they grew up in. Often unhealthy patterns are continued.
  • Families need support in order to maintain a healthy status. Families may not always be able to create an atmosphere that contributes to a healthy family. They may need help from outside of the family in order to have a healthy family.
  • Families may not have the interpersonal skills in order to have a healthy family. Families may not have adequate communication or coping skills in order to have healthy families.

Policy issues to be addressed:

  • Resources need to be made available to families. Families who are looking for training in communication and coping skills need to have resources available to them. This can be done through schools, churches or other institutions that have an interest in the needs of families.
  • Training needs to be provided to children and adolescents in how to develop a healthy family. Courses in public schools emphasizing Family and Consumer Sciences need to be provided in order for children to mature into adults who have the necessary skills to form healthy families.
  • Family friendly policies need to be emphasized. It is important both for private industry and government agencies to work together to make sure family friendly polices are both developed and enforced

To learn more:

  • Curran, D. (1983). Traits of a healthy family. Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press.
  • Lin, L. (1994). Characteristics of a healthy family. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 377097)
  • Stinnett, N. (1985). Building family strengths. Los Angeles, CA: Pepperdine University.
  • Richard L. Sale, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Child and Family Studies at Tarleton State University and Family Life Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service. Dr. Sale is also the Family Life Columnist for the Stephenville Empire Tribune.


For more information contact:

University of North Texas, Center for Parent Education, P. O. Box 311337, Denton, Texas 76203-1337
Telephone: 1-888-662-7457, E-mail:

© 2001 University of North Texas Center for Parent Education