My Tips For a Happy, Healthy Family


At Incredible Horizons, we feel strongly that there is no perfect family, or even a “normal” one. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and have their unique ways of interacting with each other. However, something we’ve observed over the years is that healthy, well-functioning families tend to have several key characteristics in common:

  • mutual support

  • love and caring for each other

  • a sense of security and belonging

  • open communication

  • a confidence within each family member that they are important, respected and valued

6 guidelines for maintaining a healthy, well-functioning family

Dinner: 30 Minutes to a More Connected Family

Believe it or not, time spent having dinner together as a family is an excellent gauge of how well kids will navigate adolescence. The more frequently kids eat dinner with their families, the better they do in school and the less likely they are to get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide or become sexually active during high school. Why? Maybe because families who eat together talk more, which helps them stay connected and build better relationships. Dinner transforms individual family members into a “group” – all for one and one for all. And, children, even more than adults, need something to count on every day, the tangible security of belonging and being nurtured that is represented by the ritual of sharing food with those who love you.

Why Kids Need Routines and Structure

Children are confronted with change daily, which can be stressful. Their own bodies change on them constantly. Babies and toddlers give up pacifiers, bottles and cribs. School-age kids have to get used to new teachers and classmates every year. They learn new skills and information at an astonishing pace, from reading and crossing the street to soccer and riding a bike. Few live in the same house for their entire childhood; most move several times, often to new cities, new neighborhoods and schools. Routines give kids a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline. And few of these changes are within the child’s control. That’s why dependable, productive routines can keep stress and tempers at bay and give soothing structure to family life.

The Family That Plays Together

From a joke-telling competition to an impromptu pillow fight, infusing a spirit of joy and playfulness into your home nurtures your family like little else. Playing together is an almost magical way to build connection, because when you’re laughing with someone, you’re bonding. Laughter also heals minor relationship stress, helps people forget grudges, and brings the family into cohesion. We have seen that children whose parents use silliness to keep the day flowing smoothly are lucky indeed.

Family Meetings

If the idea of family meetings seem stilted and artificial, our advice is: just try them. They create connection. They give you a way to work things out when everyone’s calm. They help your kids learn to solve problems. They help kids feel like integral members of the family. They give every family member a voice. They even help siblings work things out and appreciate each other. Again, schedule a couple and let us know how they worked.

Make Your Home a Haven

To thrive, we all need a safe place — both physically and emotionally — to come home to. Children especially need a secure, solid home where they feel protected and can recharge. No matter how independent they become after they start having sleepovers and sports tournaments, when they come home they want two things: a safe place where they can be fully themselves, and to connect with the rest of the family in a comfortable way. So what can you do, in this busy world, to create a sanctuary for your family?

Family Culture: Shared Identity and Belonging

How do you hold a family together? How do you make kids WANT to spend time with the family? The answers to these questions largely have do with the family culture you create. For example, take an interest in each other’s interests and hobbies, like Star Wars, ice skating or cooking. Seize any excuse to celebrate and have fun together whenever possible. As stated earlier, share dinner together whenever possible. And most all, create family rituals. Through their repetition, rituals reinforce family cohesion through shared, cherished experiences (Jack-O-Lantern carving, birthday celebrations, July 4th picnics).

Maintaining a healthy family

In order to provide a supportive, emotionally-healthy environment, you might consider the following questions:

  • Do you treat each child as an individual? Each child has his/her own temperament, strengths and weaknesses. Parents may love their children equally, but naturally will have different relationships with each of them. It’s important to develop a unique relationship with each of your children, reinforcing their talents and “specialness.”

  • Are your expectations of your children realistic? Your child’s maturity, self-awareness, knowledge and skills are constantly changing. Find out what can reasonably be expected of him/her at each stage of development. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we can help in this area; please come in and talk with us.

  • Does the time you spend together as a family foster good relationships? Can you describe your “family togetherness” time as fun, relaxed and mutually beneficial…or tense, competitive and full of conflict?

  • Are you teaching your child solid, positive values? Remember, you and your spouse are the most important role models for your child and you need to demonstrate your value system, through actions as well as words.

Green time is better than screen time

Posted on Sep 9 2020 by admin

Green time children outdoors

Children and teenagers could potentially improve their wellbeing and achieve better school results by spending more time outdoors, University of Adelaide research suggests.

“Screen time and green time are linked to psychological well-being in contrasting ways.”

Green Time vs. Screen Time

The Children Nature Network compiled data from 186 studies. They state, “generally, high levels of screen time were associated with unfavorable psychological outcomes, while green time tended to be associated with favorable psychological outcomes.”

Unfavorable psychological outcomes from screen time include

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Stress

  • Psychological distress

  • Poor self-regulation

  • Emotional challenges

  • Negative affect or mood

Favorable psychological outcomes from green time include

  • Happiness

  • Resilience

  • Hope

  • Prosocial behaviors

  • Positive affect

  • Self-esteem

  • Cognitive functioning

  • Academic achievement

For these reasons and more, We emphasize outdoor learning and play as important aspects of the school day for each student in every grade. We encourage limiting media use and screen time to high school students.

Tassia suggests that further research will help us to work out whether we should focus our efforts on reducing young peoples’ screen time; or whether simply increasing ‘green time’ alongside their ‘screen time’ would be beneficial for their psychological wellbeing.

“Prevention is key and identifying exposures which harm or help mental health is especially important for young people,” she says.

“The psychological consequences of excessive screen time appears to possibly be worse for these children, while psychological benefits of green time appears to possibly be greater for these children.”

Urban garden image by Jacob Mills

Kids' 'green' time reduces adverse effects of 'screen' time on behavior, learning


Studies show screen time can adversely affect behavior and learning in children, but the effects can be balanced with increased time outdoors. Photo by Andi Graf/Pixabay

Studies show screen time can adversely affect behavior and learning in children, but the effects can be balanced with increased time outdoors. Photo by

More time spent outdoors -- and less in front of a screen -- leads to improved mental health in children and adolescents, according to an analysis of existing research published Friday by the journal PLOS ONE.

Based on data from 186 previously published studies, researchers determined that young people who spent more time on handheld games and devices, television and computers were more likely to have behavior and emotional problems and display symptoms of aggression and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

The young people also were more likely to have learning or social difficulties.

Conversely, children who spent more time outdoors and who had increased access to "green" spaces for play and learning were less likely to have these undesirable traits.

Preliminary evidence suggests that green time potentially could limit the effects of high screen time, meaning nature may be an under-utilized public health resource to promote youth psychological well-being in a high-tech era, according to Oswald and her colleagues.

How to Get Your Kids to Spend More Time Outside

From planning a road trip around "rockhounding" opportunities to building your own outdoor play area, these fun family activities are guaranteed to spark your child's interest in nature.

Show a child a tree stump, and they'll likely jump onto it, inspect it, or peel away a bit of its bark. One thing they probably won't do, though, is leave it untouched. "That's the thing about nature. Being outdoors invites kids to observe and participate. There's so much to see and investigate."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children who spend time playing outside experience better physical health, are more engaged in learning, express better behavior, and are mentally healthier than kids who don't.

Here's How To Get Your Child Playing Outside More

If the pull of screens and the comfort of the couch have made the outdoors a tough sell to your child, start by reminding yourself that you don't have to trek to a national park. Nature is, after all, everywhere. Here's a list of oh-so-doable ways to bring a little more fresh air into your family's life.

Try your hand at rockhounding

Have a budding geologist on your hands? Or maybe just a kid who loves to dig in the dirt? Rockhounding, otherwise known as amateur geology, is a fun way families across the country have started to spend time outside.

The activity involves collecting mineral specimens, rocks, semi-precious gems, petrified wood, and invertebrate fossils from the earth. Whether you're heading out on a road trip and taking a detour or heading out on a "field trip" focused specifically on digging for rocks and gems, it's wise to check land ownership when planning a rockhounding trip.

You can check the Bureau of Land Management website and learn about rockhounding etiquette and rules and regulations on the USDA Forest Service site.

 Where the Wild Things Are

Go off-road with toy cars

If you've got a little hot rod racer at home, try this fun activity: take your remote control cars to a park to vroom-vroom over rocks, dirt, and twigs. This fantastic tactile experience is far more satisfying than driving these battery-operated cars across a carpet or a smooth wooden living room floor.

Create challenges by setting up ramps, bridges, and other wonky terrains for the cars to traverse. Not only will your child have a marvelous time with their toys, but they'll be exploring nature in an up-close and super fun way.

 Playing Outside May Make Kids More 'Spiritual'

Play camp kitchen

If your kid enjoys whipping up meals of faux food, they'll love playing "campfire" in the backyard. Help your little one pack their play pots and pans, rubber chicken, and whatever else your little chef suggests into a backpack, then head out to collect kindling and build a "fire."

Is it mud season in your neck of the woods? Set up a mud pie-making station by pulling out pie plates, spoons, spatulas, and other fun kitchen stuff. Then start scooping up heaps of ooey, gooey, amazing mud, and let the creativity begin. Try decorating your pies with flowers, fun rocks, and twigs that you find outside.

 13 Ways to Make Your Backyard More Fun

Create your own outdoor play area

Creating a special outdoor play area can make your backyard just as adventurous and thrilling as heading out to a special destination. From building sandboxes to tree houses, hammocks to tire swings to a mud kitchen den (an outdoor space equipped with bowls, utensils, a sink, water—and mud!), there are many ways to promote exploration and sensory play for your children right at home.

You could also try an obstacle course that will get kids moving or a whimsical set-up like a magical gnome garden, a bear cave, or a wild animal safari to stimulate their growing imaginations. One-off projects like rainbow bubbles can also make for a memorable experience.

 7 Backyard Camping Ideas for Kids

Take Barbie into the wild

Kids learn through the power of play, which is why it's so common to see kids with a Barbie teddy bear or superhero (or some other doll-type toy) in hand as they explore the world around them. Have your child pick their favorite action figure or doll that you don't mind getting dirty, and take a trip the great outside.

You can check out your local park, a forest with trails, or even your backyard, where your child can explore nature and their imagination through hands-on play. How better to demonstrate the Hulk's strength than to have him lift a real "boulder"? (Okay, it was a rock, but still.)

 Independent Outdoor Play is Critical for Kids—Here's How Parents Can Help

Get crafty

Little ones who like to paint on paper will be psyched to do so on snow or the driveway. Mix water with food coloring, pour it into spray bottles and let your kid channel Jackson Pollock.

If the weather is cold enough to freeze water in your neck of the woods, try adding food coloring to some water and pouring it into fun shapes like snow brick molds, latex gloves, balloons, or cookie sheets. When they freeze, you've got some wild shapes to build with. Your child can tap into their inner Michaelangelo and create fun winter sculptures.

The next time you're in the woods, gather up twigs, leaves, pine cones, and other natural fins and create a lovely glue-on-paper collage.

 5 Fall Nature Crafts for Kids

Go bird-watching

"Once kids are introduced to this activity, a love of nature evolves naturally," says Jane Kirkland, author of the children's book Take a Backyard Bird Walk. "Watching birds requires that kids look from the sky to the ground and everywhere in between."

Get to know the birds in your region. The next time you head outdoors with your child, bring a pair of binoculars. Survey trees, bushes, telephone poles, and grass for feathered friends. Observe a bird's colors, size, and behavior. Listen to its song, and watch how it flies.

Younger kids will need you to tell them what they're seeing, but older kids can make notes and later identify the birds in books or online. Attract birds to your yard with a bird feeder, a birdbath, or a nest box.

 8 Spring Activities for Preschoolers

Spell it with sticks

Use a twig to inscribe letters in sand or dirt, or play the alphabet game (find elements in nature that start with a, b, c, and so on) while on a walk.

 Simple Wood Crafts

Play "rock" music

One creative and fun activity you can try at your local botanical garden or public forest is to collect items like rocks, acorns, and sticks, then seal them in storage containers. Try shaking them to hear the different sounds they make. Once you get a few different sounds, try making up a song!

 24 Cheap Summertime Activities for Kids

Keep your eyes open

"One winter, my kids and I drove up to Mount Agamenticus in southern Maine and found ourselves standing face-to-face with a snowy owl, which turned and stared at us," says Veilleux. "It was magical to have such a close encounter."

Introducing kids to nature can open up a world of magical happenstance, like unexpectedly meeting a snowy owl or spotting a beautiful butterfly. Think of outings as an opportunity to learn more about the nature around you by reading up on local animals, plants, and insects.

Try documenting all of your finds by creating a family scrapbook where you and your children can jot down notes, save pictures, and even cool little trinkets—like bird feathers and sea shells—that you find along the way.

 17 Things to Do at the Beach with Kids

Let your kids rough it

Judy Chen, a New York City mom of Leo, 5, and aunt of Hazel, 7, does not like to camp, but when Leo begged, she and her husband took the kids on an overnight trip. It was hard but worth it, particularly as a teamwork exercise.

The family had to prepare, eat, and clean up dinner before dark, so the kids helped look for sticks to make the fire and toast marshmallows while the grown-ups prepped the food.

"The kids learned to be creative and patient and realized they don't need a lot to have fun," says Chen. "They felt proud that they were helping out, and it was a great way to bond as a family."

 19 Tips for Camping With Kids

Lead yourself to water

Aquatic environments can reveal a whole host of creatures your child may have never seen before, not to mention textures, sounds, and scents.

"My girls love to explore tide pools," says Veilleux. "They look for sea shells and other ocean treasures, then use them to deck out their sand castles."

Little wonder the water has such a good effect—research from Michigan State University found that people who live with a view of an ocean or a lake are generally happier.

 20 Fun Backyard Water Games for Kids

Plan some nature travel

You might want to plan a trip to an outdoor adventure travel destination where you can go hiking, rock climbing, rafting, or check out hot springs.

Depending on where you live, the terrain for these activities could be right in your backyard, or you might do well to check out one of the destinations touted by U.S. News & World Report's best adventure vacations, such as the Grand Canyon (which made #1 on the list), Yellowstone (which offers 3,000-plus square miles of mountains, canyons, geysers, and waterfalls), or the Adirondacks (where you can go skiing, snowshoeing, or bobsledding in the winter and biking, fishing, hiking, canoeing, and whitewater rafting in the summer).

 Family Trips to National Parks

"Monitoring screen time can be difficult for parents -- especially at the moment when many children have transitioned to online learning due to COVID-19 lockdowns," Oswald said.

"Trying to encourage a balance of activities is good -- so if a child spends an hour on a video game, encourage them to get outside for an hour."

9 Successful Family Traits

Protecting your family’s mental health and maintaining strong family relationships is a challenge even in the best of times. These days, it can feel more overwhelming than ever. As a parent and role model, building a healthy family while living through a global pandemic, helping your child navigate school, and keeping an eye on social media may feel like a daunting task. It can be difficult to know where to prioritize your time and energy to have the most significant impact on everyone’s well-being. So what traits make a family successful?

Research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that compiled findings from various disciplines (psychology, psychiatry, social work, sociology, and marriage and family counselors) provides some guidance and is supported by research from Oregon State University – Cascades.

According to the HHS research, successful families are enduring, cohesive, affectionate, and mutually appreciative. Family members communicate with each other frequently and fruitfully, and children go on to form successful families of their own. “They are not necessarily families that are trouble-free,” researchers noted. “Some have experienced health problems, financial difficulties, and other problems. But they are adaptable and able to deal with crises in a constructive manner.”

What Are the Top Traits of Successful Families?

According to the HHS research, nine traits exist in strong, healthy families:

  1. Expressing appreciation.

  2. Time together.

  3. Encouragement of individuals.

  4. Communication.

  5. Ability to adapt.

  6. Religious/spiritual orientation.

  7. Social connectedness.

  8. Commitment to family.

  9. Clear roles.

Embark Division President Dustin Tibbitts, LMFT, characterized the traits of successful families as straightforward for parents looking to assess and improve their family dynamic. “Their straightforwardness can be helpful because often parents tend to make it too hard,” he said, adding that parents also take a lot of shame upon themselves when things aren’t going well.

List of nine successful family traits

Below, Tibbitts explores the nine traits and offers tips for parents.

1. Expressing appreciation

When was the last time you said thank you or told your child you are grateful for them? Tell them you are thankful they are a part of your life and share the specific attributes, actions, or experiences that you appreciate about them. These simple gestures are compelling for successful family life.

According to Tibbitts, “The No. 1, most important way to help mental health is the expression of appreciation and gratitude. It sounds hokey, but it’s extremely powerful.”

2. Time together

When it comes to time together, there are two key concepts:

  1. Focus on quality over quantity. For example, when you’re together, practice active listening, which involves reflection (paraphrasing what your child says) and empathy (understanding their emotions based on what they share with you).

  2. Be available when your child needs you — on their time, not yours.

“A lot of parents feel guilty because they’re not out playing ball with their kid, taking them on trips, or going shopping,” Tibbitts said. “But really, what kids want is the time when they want it.

“So, if your teenager approaches you at 9 p.m. and you’re tired, but you give them time, that’s what they want. Even a half-hour goes a long way. Of course, it’s harder to do that when you’re exhausted, but successful families do that. They give their kids time when they need it.”

3. Encouragement of individuals

This may sound similar to the first successful family trait, but there’s an important distinction.

“Encouragement is different than appreciation,” Tibbitts said. “Appreciation is gratitude. Encouragement is saying, ‘You can do it!’, ‘There’s hope for the future!’, and ‘You’ve got this, and I’m right here with you.’”

Encouragement should take the form of mutual support, recognition, and respect. The HHS research noted that “Strong families cultivate a sense of belonging to a family unit, but also nurture the development of individual strengths and interests. Members enjoy the family framework, which provides structure but does not confine them.”

4. Communication

In the HHS research, experts recommend that families’ communication be “clear, open, and frequent.” They also noted that “Family members talk to each other often, and when they do, they are honest and open with each other.”

Tibbitts added that parents should focus on a real, true emotional connection that’s delivered in a way your child can receive it. Parents can assess if their child is receiving and internalizing connection based upon their body language, word choices, eye contact, voice tone, use of appropriate touch, conversational pacing, how often they seek parents out, and other cues.

5. Ability to adapt

Can your family react to and handle stressful situations in constructive ways? Can you grow and change when the circumstances demand it?

Tibbitts said, “Most psychosis, most neurosis, and most mental health problems come from rigidity and the inability to adapt.”

By teaching your children flexibility and adaptability, you prepare them to handle the inevitable stressors and challenges that life presents. For example, when a child fails at a school assignment, parents can work alongside them to provide support in giving it another go. If a child faces a disappointment like an activity canceled due to COVID-19, parents can encourage their child to come up with a creative replacement activity instead of doing nothing.

6. Religious/spiritual orientation

Having a connection to the broader world is vital for healthy development. According to Tibbitts, “Families that are successful share a common spirituality. This is not religion, per se, but a deep spirituality — a connection to something greater than yourself. Expressing that with your child, and helping them tap into that connection for themselves, goes a long way.”

Spirituality can be found in many places if you are not religious. Connecting with nature and your community can help put your child and family in a frame of mind to feel a part of the world around you.

7. Social connectedness

Tapping into the resources and support of groups outside your family — from friends to neighbors to community organizations — is crucial for creating strong bonds for family members.

“I’ve interviewed a lot of families,” Tibbitts said, “and families who have traditions that involve participation in the community are more successful than others.”

These community ties could be as simple as celebrating the Fourth of July with your neighbors, maintaining a tradition with your friends to share Thanksgiving together, or caring for an ailing neighbor. This stable base outside the family provides another layer of support to help cope with adversity and build meaning into life’s challenges.

8. Commitment to family

According to the HHS research, in a committed family, “They have a sense of being a team; they have a family identity and unity.” This commitment goes two ways, from the individual to the family and the family to the individual.

One way to build this commitment is through shared responsibilities.

“Especially for teenagers, they need to feel like they’re part of something,” Tibbitts said. “As much as they fight it, they’ve got to have some sense of meaning in the family, and that’s accomplished through responsibility.”

For example, many families have pets their children are responsible for. Helping aging grandparents with chores around the yard, babysitting younger siblings, changing the oil in a car, helping decorate for a holiday, and taking a turn cooking dinner are other good examples.

9. Clear roles

Knowing where you stand in your family structure and what role you play in times of crisis is critical for a well-functioning family. The HHS researchers noted, “With a clear yet flexible structure in place, family members are aware of their responsibilities in and to the family. Consequently, in the face of crises and problems, members know their roles.”

Tibbitts added, “What is your child’s role, and is it clear? What is the parent’s role, and is that clear? We see a lot of problems with families who are so fluid and nebulous that the kids are simply confused all the time.”

For example, Tibbitts said, some single parents defer the correction of siblings to an older child, and this can be confusing. “Take a moment to sit down together and outline when and where this might be appropriate so that the child knows what it means to be an adult versus an older sibling,” he said.

Similarly, some families allow children unsupervised access to credit cards, cellular phones, and the Internet. Tibbitts said taking time to thoughtfully set limits and boundaries around money, time with friends, and time online is an adult role — and it will result in children feeling much more secure and stable.

Final Thoughts

By striving to ensure your family reflects the nine traits of successful families, you can provide a healthy and nurturing environment not only for your child but also for future generations.

“Families with clear roles who spend time together, communicate well, adapt to stressors, appreciate and encourage one another, and are connected to their communities and to something greater than themselves are successful — and they’re setting future generations up for success as well,” Tibbitts said.