• Dr. Bill Walker

6 Ways To Make Your Family a More ‘Open’ Family

One way to view your family is to look at how open or closed your family is.

The closedness or openness of a family can contribute significantly to how emotionally and socially healthy your children grow up to be.

Since parents want their children to grow up to be emotionally and socially well-balanced this is an important issue.

Read on for some important advice from Dr. Walker on this topic.


In a previous article we discussed how some families are ‘closed’ families. Research on family functioning has found that families of the closed type are often associated with 4 problems for the children who live in it.

Problem 1:

In a closed family children are not allowed to express their own opinion – especially if it disagrees with the opinion of the parents.

Problem 2:

Closed families rarely have guests in their home. This can prevent children from being exposed to the outside world and different beliefs.

Problem 3:

In a closed family, children are usually not allowed to spend time with the family of their friends or participate in after-school activities.

Problem 4:

Social Isolation

Research has found that social isolation can literally change children's brains in emotionally harmful ways. [1]

These are 4 good reasons to 'open' your attitudes and family up more if it is tightly closed.

[For an explanation of WHY these problems are unhealthy for children see our previous article here]

What About ‘Open’ Families?

What Do Open Families Look Like?

Opposite a closed family is the open family. This is a much more emotionally healthy option.

In OPEN families" [2]

  • There is easy access to family space, frequent guests, freedom to exchange with those outside your family;

  • Members can explore outside community and groups & tend to have numerous and strong connections;

  • Communication is relatively open, opinions and ideas exchanged openly, conflict can be openly expressed;

  • Rules are well-defined, but flexible;

  • Growth is encouraged, intimacy and nurturing patterns are adaptive, and uniqueness is tolerated within limits;

  • Closeness is encouraged. There is a balance between energy flow into and out of the system

Problems With Open Families?

I don’t see any problems caused by having an open family environment. The only problem would be when openness is taken to an extreme. Extreme openness leads to family boundary issues whch we have discussed here previously.

See this article for a good explanation of healthy family boundaries.

How Can I Make My Family More Open?

Make the characteristics of an open family listed above as goals for your family. Again, use common sense. Anything can be taken to an extreme and become a problem.

Open Family Goal 1:

Be willing to invite relatives and friends over to your house for a meal or a visit. Be willing, when invited, to visit with those same people in their homes.

As well, except for bathrooms, family members should have access to all areas of the house. Closed doors should be respected, but children should be able to knock without fear.

If small children are in the home bedrooms may need to be locked at night, during times of parental undress, intimacy, etc. But no child should ever be afraid of knocking on their parent’s door when in need. Parents, use your judgment here, as “need’ can be a point of manipulation by some children.

Open Family Goal 2:

Allow your kids to participate in little league, gymnastics, school band, church youth group, etc., if they desire. Closed families prevent their kids from being involved in outside groups. This is not healthy for the social and emotional development of children.

Open Family Goal 3:

All family members need to be able to express their feelings and opinions without fear. The only restriction is these expressions should be done respectfully.

Being in a group where respectful disagreement occurs allows your child to learn how to respond and respectfully react to conflict and disagreement.

Learning to do this first in the safety of their home means your kids will enter school with the basic skills to stand up for their own beliefs and navigate conflict.

A closed family denies children the opportunity to learn these skills.

Open Family Goal 4

Make sure your family has well-defined rules, but, be willing to make exceptions to those rules when appropriate.

Rules about chores, homework and bedtime help give children clear expectations. Clear expectations give children predictability. Predictability leads to stability. Children thrive in a stable family environment.

Make clear rules for your children with fair consequences. Most importantly, be consistent in enforcing those rules.

But – it is possible to be too extreme with rules and their enforment. This can create a sense of helplessness in your kids. Helplessness because sometimes things are out of their control.

Supposed your rule is all homework is to be finished by 8pm each night. But, what if grandma picked the kids up from school today and didn’t get them home until 7:30 pm? Obviously, there is no way they can finish their work by 8. Are you really going to hold your children to the rule in this instance?

You need to be flexible with your rules, knowing that sometimes circumstances beyond your child’s control will make keeping the rules impossible.

If your kids know you are flexible in these situations they will be more relaxed and happier.

Open Family Goal 5:

Express your love for your children and accept their uniqueness.

Every child is a unique individual. Parents who compare their children to other kids do a terrible disservice to the self-esteem of their child.

Love your child for who they are. Remember all kids go through phases of finding ‘who they are’.

I knew a young man who, at about the age of 14, let his hair grow long and dressed like someone in a biker gang (no offense, bikers). That young man is now 23, a professional firefighter, and sports a very neat and closed-cropped haircut! I thought he would never amount to anything when he was 14. Shame on me for jumping to unfair conclusions.

Open Family Goal 6

Aim to make the members of your family close to one another.

This means they are not ashamed to hug one another, to joke around with each other, and to say “I love you”. Spending meaningful time together is the best way to foster family closeness.

Big events like family vacations, holidays and birthday celebrations all increase closeness. Smaller events, like eating meals together, attending church services, and sharing popcorn while watching movies together in the family room increase family bonding just as much.


Christianly Speaking

In the Bible families are seen as open families. This was by both, necessity, and design. People depended on one another greatly - as McDonald's and Holiday Inns did not exist. The family served these roles for those in need.

The fact that we have hotels and restaurants today does not change the fact that closed families continue to be associated with negative effects on the children who grow up in them.

God commands His people (including families) to be hospitable towards others.

Isaiah 58:7

Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. (NLT)

1 Peter 4:9

Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. (NKJ)

Church congregations are a reflection of the families who make them up. God wants His church to be a welcoming, open body of believers, where everyone is accepted and loved.

These attitudes and behaviors are first taught, and learned, in the individual families that make up a congregation.


The Bottom Line

Open families are emotionally and socially healthy families. Their children grow up to become emotionally and healthier adults.

The result is our society becomes a better place because of the positive influence of loving, open families.

Before You Go

Thank you for reading this article.

I’m still looking for 5 good souls – just 5 - who will ‘like’, ‘share’, or ‘comment’ so that a few more people on FaceBook might be able to read this post.

There are many closed families among us. What if you liking or sharing this post helped just 1 family with kids open up just a little more?

I need YOUR help to make this happen.

A simple ‘click’ on your part may make all the difference in putting them on the path to finding true contentment.

Thanks in advance for doing 1 small thing to make a big difference!

for the Family,

--dr. bill