12 habits of emotionally healthy families
Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” And when it comes to raising emotionally intelligent humans, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, the habits we cultivate within our families can have a huge impact on the emotional health of our children.
Emotionally healthy families have a regular set of habits that they repeatedly do. They have a specific way of interacting with and relating to each other. These interactions create a nurturing, secure environment and help lay healthy foundations for the future.
Now of course, emotionally healthy families don’t do ALL of these things every single day. And they don’t get it “right” all the time either. In fact, they don’t even believe that getting it right all the time is necessary! They know that we are all imperfect. And they know that there are lessons to be learned from those imperfections.
What they also know, is that there is value in the ordinary moments. Because often, it is the small, everyday things that create the most impact. Over time, those seemingly tiny moments add up. Those small habits and repeated actions become part of our identity – as a family and as individuals.
If we are what we repeatedly do, then emotionally healthy habits will create resilient, confident, and emotionally intelligent humans. So what are the habits of emotionally healthy families?
Emotionally healthy families do these 12 things on a regular basis:
1. Eat at least 1 meal together per day
Emotionally healthy families treat meal times as opportunities for connection. Research tells us that eating at least one meal per day as a family can improve emotional health and wellbeing and protect children against mental health problems. Emotionally healthy families understand this. They value meal times as a time for sharing, reflecting, and reconnecting with each other after a long day apart.
2. Have predictable routines and rhythms
Predictable routines give children a sense of safety and security. Routines can reduce uncertainty and anxiety for children. They also help them understand what is important and expected within their family. Regular routines help children cope better with stress, feel more connected to their family members, and provide opportunities for learning.
3. Talk about feelings
Emotionally healthy families know that all emotions are ok. They do not punish children for experiencing negative emotions. Instead, they understand that difficult behaviour is often driven by big, overwhelming emotions. They encourage healthy expression of all emotions, and teach children the skills they need to manage their big emotions. Parents also understand that children learn what they see. So they make an effort to model healthy emotion regulation skills themselves.
4. Celebrate individual achievements
Emotionally healthy families build each other up and cheer each other on! They value and appreciate the unique skills, qualities and strengths each member brings to the family. And they celebrate them! They encourage each other to pursue their own interests and passions, respect different beliefs and opinions, and allow each other space to grow as individuals.
5. Have family traditions
Emotionally healthy families also value togetherness. Family traditions, rituals and celebrations create a sense of belonging that is vital for emotional health. These families celebrate, play and have fun together. This strengthens their relationships and builds healthy self esteem in children too!
6. Set boundaries
Emotionally healthy families understand the importance of both setting and respecting boundaries. They set firm but healthy limits and have clear expectations around behaviour – their own and others. They understand the importance of communicating these boundaries with empathy and respect. They also understand that everyone needs to learn for themselves what their own limits are. This means giving children the opportunity to explore, take risks, and make mistakes, secure in the knowledge that their family will always be there for them.
7. Say, “I’m sorry”
Emotionally healthy families understand that we all make mistakes. They know that conflict within relationships is normal, and they don’t put pressure on each other to get things right all the time. Instead, they know the value of a heartfelt and sincere apology. They accept responsibility for their mistakes, make efforts to repair relationships after a rupture, and practice forgiveness. They know the value of modelling and teaching these skills from a young age.
8. Value quality time
Emotionally healthy families value one-on-one quality time with each other. This kind of time together strengthens relationships and deepens connections. There is no better way to show someone you love them than by intentionally making time to spend just with them, giving them your undivided attention, and doing something they love!
9. Communicate respectfully
Emotionally healthy families communicate respectfully without shaming, blaming or threatening each other. They listen to each other and validate the feelings and experiences of others. They allow everyone to have a voice. This means that the opinions and ideas of all members of the family are heard and considered, and children are allowed to be part of the decision making process. Emotionally healthy families also understand that communication is about more than what is said – they show respect through tone of voice, body language and facial expressions too.
10. Value learning
Emotionally healthy families accept that no-one has all the answers. They understand the importance of learning from mistakes, finding solutions together, and learning new skills. Instead of focusing on problems, emotionally healthy families focus on finding solutions together. When they encounter difficulties in their lives and relationships, they look for ways to grow and move forward.
11. Know each other’s love language
Emotionally healthy families know that connection is not only forged in the big moments. They understand that little moments of connection throughout a day can have just as much impact, if not more, than the big ones. They take the time to learn what makes their family members feel loved, valued and appreciated. They say, “I love you”; they reach out for a hug; they make a cup of tea; leave a thank you note; or gift a flower from the garden. They know how to make each other feel special, and they offer up small, frequent gestures of love.
12. Accept themselves (and others) exactly as they are
Emotionally healthy families understand that above all, everyone wants to feel loved and accepted for who they are. They allow each other space to just “be” and accept each other, imperfections and all. They work on not allowing their own fears, anxieties and beliefs interfere with their relationships – both with each other and with themselves. Ultimately, they understand that personal growth first requires acceptance of ourselves just as we are in the moment.
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.