Top Ten Ways to Make Your Family More Resilient

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If hard times come, will your family get through them? It's possible to develop the traits necessary for families to thrive even in challenging, changing times. Laurie Kramer, University of Illinois professor of applied family studies, gives her top ten tips for building resiliency into your family.

1. Talk to each other. It's a busy world, and it's easy to get sidetracked. That said, relationships won't grow stronger unless you talk to each other regularly. Many parents report having good discussions in the car when kids are literally a captive audience. And dinnertime's another good talking time. Food relaxes people and encourages them to open up.

2. Listen more. If parents are quiet long enough, kids will often open up, and that's really what you want. Talk less and really listen to what your kids are dealing with during the day, what they're thinking about, what they're excited about, and what they're confused about.

3. And do it with regularity. Research shows the importance of routine in family relationships. Plan to spend time with each other, whether it's a bedtime ritual for little kids, or a once-a-week pizza night with teenagers. Also spend time with each child individually every so often. Make it happen without seeming to make it happen. If it feels forced, kids won't open up.

4. View your problems as being solveable and approach them that way. There's nothing you're facing now that other families haven't faced and gotten through, together. Try to remember how you solved a problem in the past and see if there are strategies you can apply to this situation. Sometimes, families lack confidence or they may need help figuring out how to cope with situations. It's not a sign of failure to seek help from a counselor.

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5. Maintain a strong relationship with your spouse or partner. This relationship is the backbone of your family, and it can be kept strong by applying rules 1-4 to the important adult in your life. That said, resilient families come in all shapes and sizes, including single-parent families. If there is no other adult to lean on in your family, rule number 6 is even more important.

6. Build a strong support system of friends and family. This can include neighbors and other families who have similar interests or kids the same ages. Many families find support in a spiritual community, but not all strong families have spirituality as their guiding force. Grandparents, uncles, and aunts can help fill this important role.

7. Develop a network of professional support for family life. Sometimes you just need an expert's opinion. Don't wait until a problem arises before you find a good pediatrician, get to know your children's teachers, and say more to your child-care provider than hi and goodbye at the end of the day. Attend parenting programs that look interesting to you. Consult a family life educator or counselor before you reach a crisis point. Read books and web pages that support family life.

8. Conflict is inevitable, fight fair. Accept that people in your family are going to behave in frustrating ways sometimes and learn ways to calm yourself before dealing with those situations. Don't confuse the person with the behavior. Work at developing patience and tolerance and learn to look at situations from the other person's perspective.

9. Don't allow anger over something that happened outside the family to explode inside the family. Sometimes anger at a supervisor, mother-in-law, or a divorced spouse can be displaced onto family members who had nothing to do with getting you upset. If you're angry, try to figure out why you're angry and deal with it at the appropriate time with the appropriate person.

10. Cultivate optimism. Hopeful people see the bright side of challenges, not just their problematic aspects. Try not to jump to negative conclusions about what other people are doing or intending. Ask for explanations instead. Then you have a starting point for working through the problem together. Optimism may be the true source of happiness and resilience.

Phyllis Picklesimer - University of Illinois at Urbana

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