Families are the backbone of society. They play a major role in our development as a person.

Families influence the choices we make as a child and throughout life as an adult. How we behave and conduct ourselves is very much dependent on our family life.

A family unit might consist of a couple; a mother, father and children; a single parent and child; grandparent and grandchildren; a sibling group; or a circle of friends. Given the various family units that exist, there are many definitions of what constitutes a family.

However, there is far less debate over what constitutes a healthy family. Raising a happy, healthy family requires ongoing work, and it is important that parents start early and work together to achieve this goal. Here are a few areas on which to focus attention:

Healthy Bodies. Physically active parents set the tone for the whole family. A family in which everyone exercises to their abilities and maintains a proportional body weight is healthy and projects a good appearance. Our bodies need physical activity daily to maintain good circulation, muscle tone and a healthy weight-to-height ratio.

Children need more exercise than adults do because they are growing and developing. What may look like play is an important part of building strong bones and motor skills. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers a daily exercise programme one sign of a healthy family. It recommends 30 minutes of moderate to strenuous activity for adults on most days. Children need 60 minutes per day, and time spent on the soccer or ball field counts.

Healthy Diet. As with exercise, it is easier to stick with the programme and make the right choices when everyone participates. Parents must demonstrate the importance of a good diet by making it a top priority. They should ensure all family members are eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, decrease white starches and simple sugars, and promote the intake of whole wheat and grains. The U.S. surgeon general reports that an overweight child with one obese parent has a higher risk of growing up with a weight-related condition such as diabetes or heart disease.

Eating right and getting more exercise will keep all family members at healthy weights. Getting optimum nutrition also shows in skin and muscle tone and energy level. A good diet leaves the family free of chronic diseases and facilitates an active lifestyle. Eating right and getting more exercise are also sound stress-management tools, promoting mental as well as physical fitness.

Healthy Spirit. Spirituality is a state of being, a vibration, a demeanor, a deep sense of who you are. Even though many world religions and spiritual groups define spirituality differently, there are common threads interwoven among them. Some of these are honesty, kindness, reverence and sensitivity. Spirituality is also intuitive and searches the soul for right decisions. A spiritual person knows life is a gift and strives to give back by using talents and skills to uplift life. The spiritual person strives to live life to its full potential, using and growing gifts and talents.

Spiritual growth and expansion naturally occurs through our conversations and relationships. It’s important to create a safe place for children to ask questions. Parents are a child’s first spiritual teachers, and conversations about spiritual development should be encouraged within the family setting. Sue Frederick, author of A Mothers Guide to Raising Healthy Children, says, “Allow your child to be your spiritual teacher. Ask him questions about the big issues of life and listen to his answers. Develop a thoughtful and respectful dialogue with him.”

Healthy Relationships. Establish clear rules and establish them early. According to child-development specialist Christine Todd, rules help children understand what’s right and wrong and prepare them for the “real” world. To make things even, adults should have rules, too. For example, everybody must respect others’ privacy. Whatever the rules are—and they should be kept to a minimum—all family members must abide by them.

With the appropriate rules in place, family members should be able to communicate despite differences. Working out everyday stress is crucial for children and parents. Harmony reigns when feelings are out in the open and people show respect and restraint. A positive indicator in this area is that family members are as polite to each other as they would be to friends or strangers. Parents may have to encourage those who have difficulty asserting an opinion or accepting a compromise.

Raising a happy, healthy family requires constant attention, and it is important to focus on the right areas, start early and work together.

The Bermuda Family Council (BFC) is presently a non-statutory body that advises the Government on family issues. From its inception in 1998, the Council, through its constituent service-provision organizations, has been involved in a number of initiatives aimed at strengthening the family. The BFC is presently located in the Ministry of Youth and Families; information on any aspect of the Council’s functioning can be obtained through the department of Child and Family Services.