There’s plenty of advice for families on the internet. You can for example find many suggestions for the things you should do to strengthen family relationships. There are so many suggestions in aggregate that it would not be practical to work on more than a fraction of them at one time. Therefore it is best to focus your mental energies and prioritise.

We believe that the one thing you need to do most of all to strengthen family bonds, and which will make the majority of the difference, is simply to be present with your family. That means in particular being mentally present and engaged when you are spending time with family members. Even better if you can be physically present also. After that every additional thing you can do to strengthen positive family experiences and exchanges is a bonus.

Since there are such a multiplicity of personality types and personal circumstances it may be that any further advice about ways of strengthening family bonds may or may not be suitable for you and your family at any given point in time. Below we run through a few ideas to provide food for thought. We have tried bear in mind time pressures and life’s practicalities to contextualize the use of these approaches where appropriate.

Listening and understanding, and we underline really listening and really understanding, and not judging or criticizing, will generally help you to get closer to others and may get people to open up.

Scheduling time to be with your family would be ideal although getting several people with a range of interests together may prove to be a challenge. Consequently, making use of chance and occasional meetings may be necessary. Perhaps mealtimes can become your best regular family time since everyone has to eat at some stage. You could also use meeting times to plan to do things together. It’s generally good to share things with other members of your family, although we are not suggesting sharing everything.

Household duties could be made the responsibility of the whole family. You could create a list of jobs that need doing and by when and assign a role or roles to everyone depending on age.

Some people suggest creating a family mission statement. This will only be effective we think if you develop it together and read it and talk about it on a fairly regular basis. Others seem to be very skeptical about this kind of measure, and certainly it will take a considerable amount of discipline and thought to do such a thing. There’s little point just writing down a mission statement without discussion, or simply posting it on a wall and leaving it.

Empathise where you can. This can include celebrating events and successes, and commiserating where something does not go as desired. Celebrations can get expensive of course so you may have to get creative about doing things that don’t cost anything or at least not too much. Maybe you can agree with people where to draw the line in terms of things like presents for birthdays where persons are not in your immediate family circle.

If there’s any way for family members to get some exercise we suggest trying to seize that opportunity. Your body and mind will probably feel better and you are likely to be more energized. That may lead to better interactions with your family as well as others. People sometimes say that they are too busy to exercise, but we take the contrary view that you are probably too busy not to exercise. Be careful about stepping up your exercise regimen however: if you do too much at once, especially if you weren’t exercising before, you may find yourself not feeling so good initially. Perhaps you can build in some exercise as a part of completing family jobs or by walking to the shops.

We think that it’s generally best to focus on your family members’ positives and ignore their negatives as you perceive them. We recognize that there are limits to what you can ignore. Focusing on their positives may even encourage them to talk about things you are concerned about as they will not feel that they are going to be judged.

Finally, you could also join in doing something with other families. Being with other families will probably strengthen your own.