Family Issues : Traits of High-Functioning Families

By Joshua H. Wood

While there's no specific formula one can follow to shape a family that will be happy as a unit and as individuals, there are some common traits that high functioning families share.

Is there a single, correct way to run a family? No! Each family has a unique situation and set of demands. Therefore, what works for one family might be ineffective for another.

There are, however, a few traits shared by the majority of successful families:

Clear Boundaries

  • Families that function well are able to balance closeness and separateness. This ensures that the needs of both the family and the individuals within it are met.
  • The family has set values and can work together toward shared goals, but not at the expense of individual differences and interests. This requires good faith negotiation between spouses, and also parents and children.

Hierarchal Organization

  • Parents sit atop the family hierarchy in a position of unquestioned, UNIFIED leadership. They have more power than their children, and older children have more responsibilities and privileges than their younger siblings.
  • A clear boundary between parents and children allows for a private relationship between spouses.
  • The Parents are in charge. Often, however, parents can benefit from having fewer rules. Overuse of authority dilutes it – children tend to do better by learning for themselves the consequences of their own behavior!
  • As children move into adolescence and high school, they gradually need to learn how to manage their own lives in order to successfully prepare for life away from home. This includes schoolwork, social life and activities!



  • The roles of family members are clear, but there also needs to be flexibility in order to accommodate change within the family system and its individual members.
  • Demands on the family change as children grow older, and roles and boundaries need to evolve accordingly.

Primary Source: Michael P. Nichols’ book, Inside Family Therapy, 1999, Allyn & Bacon, New York, NY.