Creating a Strong Family
Effective Management of Stress and Crisis

This is one in a series of NebGuides by UNL Extension Family Life specialists and educators who explore the attributes and experiences of strong families.

John DeFrain, Extension Specialist, Family and Community Development; Jeanette Friesen, Extension Educator; Dianne Swanson, Extension Educator; Gail Brand, Extension Educator

Dealing Positively With Life’s Challenges

Research on strong families across the country and around the world reveals useful approaches to dealing with stress and crises in one’s life in a positive manner. The following ideas come from worldwide research on strong families, involving more than 24,000 family members in 35 countries. Here are some approaches your family can use during difficult times.

Reframing a Difficult Family Situation

Strong families know how to manage difficult times in life creatively. Many counselors believe that one of the most important things a family can do in a time of crisis is to reframe the situation, i.e., look at what is happening to the family from a different perspective. For example, if a mother is a member of a National Guard unit that is being deployed outside the United States in a time of national uncertainty, this is clearly a significant challenge for the father, children, grandparents, and other loved ones left behind. Countless questions come up: Will Mom be OK? Can everyone left behind adjust to life without her for a while? Can Dad and the kids share the many roles Mom plays while she is gone?

But in many critical times such as this one, families often have little choice in the situation. Each individual family member can spiral down into depression or anger over the difficulty he or she will face when Mom leaves. Or the family can hold a series of group discussions and focus on how they can work together to meet the challenges they face. They can find ways to maintain communication with Mom, even though she will be physically absent, to ensure she will keep a strong psychological presence in the family. Dad can figure out ways to adjust and hone his skills as a parent to new levels of competence. The kids can brainstorm ways they can contribute to the family’s well-being and fill in the gaps caused by Mom’s physical absence. Grandparents, often eager to contribute to the family’s welfare, can offer suggestions on how they might help.

If the family can see the situation as not only a serious difficulty but also an opportunity to strengthen their bonds with each other, the challenge can be met. The key is positive communication with each other: Anything mentionable is manageable. In essence, if we can find the courage to talk with each other about a problem, we can find ways to solve it.

“I wouldn’t ever want to go through something like that again,” people are likely to say, “but I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the love we now share with each other as a result of our ability to support and care for each other till the crisis was over.” Families sometimes fall into disarray during times of crisis. Those families that can recover from the initial shock and sense of despair and band together to find solutions to their difficulties commonly say they feel stronger and more appreciative of each other as family members.


DeFrain, J., & Asay, S. (Eds.). (2007). Strong families around the world: Strengths-based research and perspectives. New York and London: The Haworth Press/Taylor & Francis.

This publication has been peer reviewed.

Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Publications Web site for more publications.
Index: Family
Family Strengths
Issued September 2008