In practical terms, the study found that thriving families share six qualities. These are the “secrets” of creating the safest place on earth:

1. Commitment: Members of strong families are dedicated to promoting one another’s welfare and happiness. They prize their family and value the relationships.

2. Appreciation and Affection: Members of strong families are thankful for each other. They don’t take their special relationships with one another for granted.

3. Positive Communication: Members of strong families spend a lot of time talking freely with one another, doing their best to be understood and to understand.

4. Time Together: Members of strong families spend generous amounts of time with one another—quality time—creating memories and building bonds.

5. Spiritual Well-being: Strong families, whether they attend formal religious services or not, have a sense of a greater good that gives them strength and purpose as a unit.

6. The Ability to Cope with Stress and Crises: Members of strong families are not fragmented by tension and trouble. They use those experiences to learn and grow together.2

There you have it. Six qualities that healthy homes and thriving families all have in common. Look back over the list. Those qualities seem profoundly simple, don’t they? But that can be misleading because the fact is, understanding what makes a healthy home is not the same as building one. That requires being proactive. And in the pressure cooker of our busy daily lives, being proactive is where most of us get bogged down. When emotions are frazzled, bills are mounting, and time is in short supply, doing something proactive can be the last thing on our minds.

But what if that doing were actually easier than you imagined? What if it took less time and were simpler than you could even believe?

That’s where the hour that matters most comes in. Countless studies have shown that if parents could take only one proactive and practical step to engender family commitment, appreciation, affection, positive communication, time together, and all the rest, it would be to establish a regular dinnertime around a common table without distraction. One hour a few times a week. That’s it.

Keeping the Light On

Have you ever given your children “the blessing”? Blessing someone says that you love and accept that person unconditionally. And that’s exactly what you give your children when you tune in to their world over a family dinner or any other time. Similar to building them a campfire on a dark night, you draw them toward the warmth of genuine concern and love. And because of it, they’ll be drawn to you years down the road.

Two Ways to Keep the Lights On

Keeping the lights on when an older child is out for the evening sends a message that you care about your child, that you are waiting for him or her to return, and that your home is a welcoming and safe place. In the same way, a healthy home “leaves the lights on” by providing a safe place for the family to speak honestly and express their feelings without fear of condemnation. There are two ways a parent can keep the emotional lights on. Let’s look at them briefly.

1. Stay Cool

 Let’s say your seven-year-old blurts out a few shocking words. Or your teenager starts talking about getting a tattoo. Or your twelve-year-old tells you of a plan to stay overnight with a friend you disapprove of. Whatever your child’s shocking statement is, your job is to play it cool. Muster your inner strength, stay calm, and give yourself some time by saying something like “That’s interesting” or “Tell me more about that.” You may be cringing inside, but do your best not to show it. Giving yourself time helps to keep the situation from becoming a major argument or escalating into a shouting match.