High Functioning Families

By Jeff Dwarshuis LMSW, ACSW

The McMaster Model of Family Functioning was developed as a measurement device for family health. This model suggests six important and well researched dimensions needed for family health. Knowing and following these six dimensions will help any family or group to better functioning and health.

Problem Solving

Problem Solving consists of a family’s ability to solve problems in an effort to maintain effective functioning. It is known that most all families, whether healthy or dysfunctional, have the same amount of problems. However, the differences in functioning are related to the family’s ability to resolve problems thoroughly. Thorough problem solving consists of problem identification, recognition of the key players in the problem, developing alternatives to the problem, deciding on an alternative, monitoring the decision’s effectiveness and then evaluating the effectiveness of the process. High functioning families do these steps in a very quick and spontaneous way. Most high functioning families have little or no unresolved issues


Communication is seen as the exchange of information in a family. For families to be functioning well the members need to be communicating both clearly and directly. Clear communication is determined by whether the message has been clearly stated or if it is unclear, camouflaged or “muddied”. Direct communication occurs when the family members give information to the intended recipient rather than talking through people.

Family Roles

Family Roles are seen as the repetitive patterns of behavior that members use to complete family tasks. Healthy families tend to follow three distinct characteristics regarding family roles. First, the members arrange themselves in a way that allows their collective work to fulfill all family needs and developmental demands. Also, members expect only what are appropriate tasks of its members. Overwhelming members is not an option and no task can be too intellectually, emotionally or developmentally beyond capacity. Also, healthy families have a built-in accountability process by which members are evaluated on their role performance. Family roles are clear so that evaluation is fair and accurate.

Affective Responsiveness

Affective Responsiveness refers to a family’s ability to respond to a given situation with the appropriate amount and type of emotional expression. Healthy families have a wide range of emotions and can apply the correct emotional response to a given family problem or success. Expression is neither overblown nor disengaged but is an appropriate response to the situation. Family members have the expectation that their actions will be followed by appropriate and consistent emotional reactions. Family members are not left in question regarding how members feel about their behavior.

Affective Involvement

Affective Involvement is the extent to which the family shows interest or involvement in activities and interests of individual family members. Healthy families are involved in the process of understanding each other. Family members need to have a reasonable response to members’ interest, neither being too engaged or uninvolved. At all levels of family activity, members need to be open and spontaneous with emotion. Healthy families take a basic tone of being invested and encouraging.

Behavior Control

Behavior Control is the pattern a family develops for managing family activity. Healthy behavioral control is seen as having standards that are reasonable for its members while also allowing for an opportunity to negotiate and change. Behavioral control is neither too ridged nor inflexible nor is it Laissez- faire with few standard requirements. Expectations for behavior are clear, negotiation is an option and accountability is the norm. Individuals in these families maintain a sense of responsibility and insight into the consequences of their behavior.

Optimal family functioning is acquired through knowledge and practice. Long standing research on healthy functioning has allowed people to follow suggested methods of change that lead to family health. Learn these six things, discuss them at home and invest in positive group change.


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