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Building Strong Family Relationships

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Our society thrives on strong families. 
Our family teaches us how to function in the world. It should provide love and warmth to all of its members. A strong family gives its members the support they need to make it through life’s toughest spots.

Strong families have good communication. 
Strong families have open lines of communication -- where all family members feel heard and respected. One of the best ways to strengthen your family is to increase your listening skills and those of other family members. Until we can hear each other, we cannot build strong relationships.

To build strong family relationships, listen actively to each other.

  • Give the person your full attention, turn off the TV or put down what you are doing.
  • Focus on what the person is telling you -- rather than thinking about your reaction or response to what is being said. (There will be time for that.)
  • Listen for how the other person is feeling and relay back to them what you think they were saying and how they are feeling. “I hear you saying that you don’t like your sister. You look pretty mad. Did something happen?"
  • Resist giving advice or your reaction until you are certain you have fully understood what the person was saying to you.

Use “I” messages rather than “You” messages when talking. 
"I" messages are more difficult because they require us to be clear about our own thoughts and feelings. They, however, increase the chances that our message will be heard and decrease the chances that a fight will begin.

“I don’t like all this fighting. It upsets me to see the two of you not getting along.” 
Rather than “ What’s wrong with the two of you? You’re making me crazy! Can’t you ever get along?”

Teach everyone in your family to talk with “I” messages as much a possible. You are much more likely to resolve problems when the focus is on behaviors and how those behaviors are affecting you or the family.

“You” messages should be discouraged because they often lead to bad feelings and increased fighting. “You” messages seldom resolve the problem.

Encourage all family members to share their thoughts and feelings. 
Strong families allow all family members -- no matter how young or small -- to talk about their thoughts and feelings. This does not mean that members are not respectful of one another, but rather that feelings and ideas are respected. Everyone should be expected to express themselves in appropriate ways -- such as with “I” messages. When people feel heard and respected, they feel better about themselves, are more open to solving problems, and are more likely to allow others to express themselves. 

Strong families spend time together.

In today’s busy world it can be difficult for families to find time to be together. All relationships need attention -- and this includes the family as a whole.

Family rituals can offer a set time for families to get together and give each other the attention that is needed. A family ritual is simply a time that is set aside on a regular basis for a family to get together. This can mean having dinner together, celebrating a holiday together, going to church together, or just going for a walk together every week. It is important that the family ritual be predictable and that other activities are not allowed to upset it.

Family rituals help define who is in our family and who we are as a family. It allows time for the family to get together, to share experiences with one another, and to reconnect with each other. Knowing that the family will have time together can help us deal with those times when we are apart. Even though parents may work, children can know that each evening, each weekend (or whenever works for your family) they will have some “special time” with you. 

Every child is special and every child needs some special time when he can have his parent all to himself. 
Giving your child some “special time” helps develop a close relationship with your child. Consider setting aside some time -- perhaps 15 minutes -- for each child each week. (Better yet, 15 minutes each day, if that is possible.) Make it a predictable ritual so that the child can depend on it and look forward to this time with you. Be sure that this “special time” is not easily interrupted by other activities. For example, don’t answer the phone during this time.

Allow your child to help you decide how to spend this time. You could read books, sing songs, go for a walk, play a game -- or whatever your child enjoys. The more you are able to spend “special time” with your child the stronger your relationship will be.

Look for opportunities to connect with your child. 
Although setting aside time with your child is important, also look for small moments that you can use to connect with your child. You can make up stories together while doing chores, talk about concerns while on the way to the grocery store, read a book together while waiting for dinner to finish. We often think we have to wait for our “special time” but all these small moments help us stay connected in between the more scheduled times.

Strong families handle their conflict fairly. 
All families have conflict--it’s a natural part of human relationships. Strong families are able to work through fights and disagreements by focusing on the problems, rather than by “tearing each other down.”

Keys to Fair Fighting

Stay focused on the behavior or problem.
Use “I” messages to express your thoughts and feelings about the problem. For example, if you and your child are arguing about bedtime, you could say “I get angry when you continue to argue with me even after I’ve told you my decision. I want you to go to bed now.” instead of “You never listen to me. Go to bed now or I’ll spank you.”

Stay focused on the present problem.
Do not bring up old issues and problems. These only distract from the present issue. You can discuss them later.

Respect each other’s right to safety. 
Fights should never become violent. When people are so angry that they feel like hitting one another or throwing things, then the discussion should be stopped. Agree to get together to talk again after everyone has had a chance to calm down.

Use your problem solving skills to create new solutions to the problem and teach your kids to think of ways to resolve conflict. 
It is not useful to fight about what isn’t working. Instead, focus on what has worked in the past or what could work now.

For bedtime problems, you could try saying, “I am tired of always arguing with you about your bedtime. Let’s come up with some new ways that you can get to bed without all this hassle.” Then you and your child could think of some solutions and decide which one to try. The more you include your child, the better problem solver he will be -- and the more likely to follow through with the plan. 

Strong Families Develop Trust. 
Strong, healthy families recognize the importance of developing trust. Trust is the glue that holds relationships together.

Some ways to develop trust in your family are:

  • Give your child opportunities to earn your trust. Let her do small tasks around the house and praise her for doing it on her own.
  • Show your child that you can be trusted. Children need to know that they can count on what their parents say. Follow through with the things you promise to do.
  • Allow people in your family to make amends. We all make mistakes. Teach your child to forgive and allow yourself to forgive others. Holding on to past hurts often only hurts us.
  • Teach everyone how to say “I’m sorry.” Taking responsibility for our good and our bad behaviors is important and helps to develop trust. People learn to trust that they can be loved even though they are not perfect.

Patricia Tanner Nelson, Ed.D.
Extension Family & Human Development Specialist

Want more information? Visit us at

Or contact your county Extension office – Extending the University to YOU!
New Castle: 461 Wyoming Rd., Newark, DE 19716-1303, Tel. 302-831-8965; Kent: 69 Transportation Circle, Dover, DE 19901, Tel. 302-730-4000; Sussex: Research & Education Center, 16684 County Seat Hwy., Georgetown, DE 19947, Tel. 302-856-7303.

Adapted from information prepared for Oregon State University Extension Service by Dr. Jan Hare, Extension Family Life Specialist, and from materials by Lawrence Altman, Eleanor Macklin, Karen Pittman and the national PTA.


  Cooperative Extension Education in Agriculture and Home Economics, University of Delaware, Delaware State University and the United States Department of Agriculture cooperating. Distributed in furtherance of Acts of Congress of March 8 and June 30, 1914. It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin.

5 ways to get his attention in 72 seconds

You’ve probably heard that people make split-second decisions when they meet others — especially potential romantic partners. People are indeed very skilled at judging some traits quickly. Sam Gosling, Ph.D., from the University of Texas at Austin recently coauthored a study that revealed, “people get pretty good reads on others for the traits of extraversion, openness to new experiences, likability, and self-esteem” based on their photos alone. But what about when you’re meeting with someone in person for the first time? According to Joe Navarro, nonverbal communication expert and coauthor of What Every BODY is Saying, “You have four opportunities to impress others — at a distance, when you shake hands, as you converse, and as you leave.” 

Armed with this knowledge, why not use the first minute or two with your (potential) Mr. Right doing everything, well, right? Here are some great tips for catching his eye — and maybe even his heart — in those crucial early moments. 

1. Wear something red
You can do something to command attention before you even leave the house by putting on a fetching red sweater or dress. A study recently published in British Psychological Society Research Digest shows that humans are attracted to the color red. Researchers found that when a woman wears the ever-popular crimson hue, men sit closer to her and ask more intimate questions. Lead researcher, Daniela Niesta Kayser, Ph.D., says: “I wanted to demonstrate that despite social psychological factors that are known to impede acting on one’s attraction to someone (e.g., shyness, lack of self-esteem, performance situation), the color red had such a powerful effect that it would overcome those barriers to real behavior.” The positive effect can also carry over into online dating, so you might want to consider posting a picture of yourself wearing red to amp up your profile’s visual appeal!

2. Work those pretty peepers
Eye contact is important, even before you introduce yourself the person you’d like to get to know better. In fact, if it’s done right, your eyes can literally bring him to you. Navarro suggests softening your features before scoping out someone cute: “Always look with a relaxed face. A smile is fine, but it’s not needed as long as the look says, ‘When I look at you I relax psychologically.’” He also advises repeating the eye-contact routine more than six times in a three-minute period to send a clear message about your intentions. 

3. Speak at a natural volume
If you feel tempted to lower your voice an octave or two when you meet a good-looking man, you’re not alone. American psychologists at Pennsylvania’s Albright College and the University of Baltimore found that both men and women lower the tone of their speaking voices when they find the person they’re chatting up to be attractive. The catch is men tend to prefer feminine, melodious voices, so making any extra effort isn’t necessarily worth it. Nicholas Boothman, author of How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds, weighs in: “Always be yourself and don’t try too hard — it’s the number one turn-off.” 

4. Relax and use humor to break the ice
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that flirting isn’t rocket science. Chances are that guy wants to meet you, too. Brian Hayford, 29, an artist in Wisconsin, says that all you need to do in order to draw him in is “smile and make a witty comment that’s funny, but not overly mean.” Steer clear of touchy subjects, like politics, when you first meet new people. Instead, joke about your surroundings or popular culture. When you’re tempted to say something ribald or outrageous to get attention, Sam Gosling suggests that you proceed with caution: “With the right cheeky glint in her eye, a woman could probably pull it off — but it would be harder [than for a man] because expectations for what counts as acceptable behavior are quite different for men and women.” Boothman agrees: “Everyone likes witty and funny/smart people, but the tone should stay lighthearted — no one likes people who are too aggressive in their opinions or use vulgar language, gestures or anecdotes.” In other words, it’s OK to let your inner Lisa Lampanelli out…but wait until after you’ve gotten to know someone first. 

5. Keep your body language open
If you tend to be a bit shy, it might feel natural to cross your arms or turn slightly away from others, but people are more sensitive to these cues than you think. If you want to strike up a conversation with an attractive stranger, pay attention to the signals your body language is sending. Don’t fidget, look down, or slouch. Instead, sit or stand in a relaxed and confident manner. Kira Sabin, a professional dating coach in Wisconsin, says it’s particularly important to think about your body language when you’re talking to a friend in a crowded place. “If you are only turned toward your friend, then your body is saying, ‘we are in a closed conversation.’ With both of you facing toward the room, it says, ‘we are nice and friendly — come talk to us.’”