National Family Communication Initiative


How to Lead Your Family as a Whole
So That Everyone Helps Each Other

© 1998 Dick Wulf, MSW, LCSW

I cannot guarantee results with the following, but I can assure you that it comes both from my professional training in Group Work from the Columbia University School of Social Work (1965-67) and from leading my own family.


You can see fantastic results if you use the following professional group work approach to lead your family. Applied to the family it yields parents and children who all help each other and look out for one another.

The keys to this approach are in (1) leading the family as a group rather than a collection of individuals, (2) having a family purpose, and (3) parents not doing things that the family’s children can accomplish or the family as a whole can do.

I will deal with these three key elements in order.

NOTE: For the sake of ease, I will sometimes refer to "a parent" and "the parent". When the family has two parents, please read it as referring to both parents.


A cooperative and interdependent family will not usually come into being if a parent centers most of his or her attention on individual kids when part or all of the family is together. A collection of people being herded in the same direction will not prosper and grow into the powerful family it could be as a true group.

This may sound a little theoretical, but please give me time to develop the point. A strong family will develop with these techniques. This kind of family enables individual members to function and grow by leaps and bounds more than other family leadership models. And the family will go on to accomplish surprising results.

Please read the following as applying when the family is gathered together, either everybody or a group of at least one parent and one kid.

Leading the family as a group is a completely different paradigm than merely raising kids one-by-one, ignoring the family as a unit.

Think of the coach of a football team contrasted with the quarterback coach. The first must focus on how the various individual members of the team relate to each other, work together, carry out the plays, etc. The quarterback coach is concerned with very different things: individual performance, individual morale, etc. Parents must do both. It is done over time. But what usually happens is that parents just operate like the quarterback coaches, helping one individual at a time and leaving out teaching their families to work together and help one another.

Or think of an orchestra conductor who must be concerned that each musician is playing his or her part and that the whole orchestra is in harmony. The flute instructor, on the other hand, is focused on the individual flute player – just one part of the orchestra. Parents must be both the conductor and the instructor – the conductor when the family is together (what is often not done) and an instructor when with individual children.

Therefore, the successful parent has the family in mind, talks to the family as a whole often, analyzes how the family is developing and what it needs to do together to go further, gives the family work to do (explained under point #3), and helps with a host of other family-centered concerns.

Look at three separate ways of handling the situation of a child in the family needing to do better in school.

In the usual approach, a parent talks to the child who needs to do better. All of the other children in the family usually know that the brother or sister is doing poorly, but they are not brought into the process. Often the reason is to prevent embarrassment. But the other kids know – and they might not be acting kind behind the parents’ backs. In this usual approach, almost all communication is between the parent(s) and the child, with all too often occasional parental "side comments" to other children. This approach rarely "protects" the child doing poorly from sibling cruelty. What it does do is prevent the other children from committing to be of help and support for the child who will be trying to do better. Many other things might be being hindered as well, such as, for example, finding out some of the things that might be affecting school performance. The other children might know some of the reasons for poor school behavior, like teasing at school.

A second approach is where a parent has the helpful discussion with the child while the other children are listening. This might seem like involving the family, but it really is not. It is a method that acquires no true commitment on the parts of the other family members to help rather than hinder the brother or sister improving in school.

The empowering model of family leadership I am teaching you has many advantages you might not have considered. In this model the parent focuses on the family as the entity he or she is helping. This is because it is the whole family that can do the best job in helping a member of the family do better in school. (I know. We did this when one of our older daughters was doing poorly in school.)

In the empowerment model, the parent talks to the family as a whole to help everyone want to work together to help the brother or sister who is doing poorly in school. Then the parent focuses on helping the family do all the things necessary to help the brother or sister bring up school grades. The children and parent(s) working together can pool their ideas and efforts. The family would thus decide how each family member would help, what actions and attitudes would be truly helpful, what consequences should follow if any family member knowingly did something harmful to the process, which family members should spend extra time with the person, and a host of other things that would not occur in either of the first two approaches.

And think of all the other benefits in the way of building the family and growth in individual family members! With the parent's focus on the family, the members will make decisions together, work together to accomplish the family purpose, resolve barriers that block progress, etc. Both the individuals AND the family will grow and become stronger and more capable. This then translates into more effective Chrisitan individuals and a strong "mini-church".

This empowering model of family leadership expects a lot of a family and is very affirming. It is not the typical, "let's see how comfortable we can make the family." Instead, it is more like saying, "let's show the family members how much the family can accomplish by working together."


If members of the family do not consciously think about the family as a social unit, each person will focus on his or her individual purposes only. When these usually hidden individual agendas clash, conflict results and the family does not know how to handle it, since the family does not fully exist as a functional family without a purpose to which all family members commit.

On the other hand, when a family is led as a family, careful time is taken to help the family adopt a purpose that is critically important to the family members. Expected behavior in light of this family purpose is discussed. I did this in my family when my oldest child was four years old, speaking in four-year-old language. As the kids got older we went over our family purpose at higher and higher levels of understanding.

Our family’s purpose was to "to help one another enjoy life and become all that God wanted us to be".

When the members of a family do not know what is the family's purpose, individual behaviors and the family’s efforts will not be focused. At the least, family members will be confused as to the real reason for the family - which was never decided. The family will then be defined as "who is in the family" rather than "what the family is all about". Who is in the family does not necessarily lead anywhere. What the family is all about, does.

Note also that a proper purpose is a result, not an activity. Therefore, having fun as a family is not a recommended purpose. However, being together to make certain that every member of the family enjoys life is an adequate purpose. It is measurable. It leads to goals and action steps.

Without such a purpose to guide functional behavior, a family can become or remain dysfunctional. A family almost always under-functions. And without constructive behavior and rewarding accomplishment, the family becomes an activity rather than a means to a critical purpose and meaningful goals. Teenagers then drop out of being a part of the family since they were merely a number, not a card-carrying, contributing member.

If you want your family to be a close-knit group of highly functional people, adopting a family purpose is critical. It is in the process of working toward a significant purpose with all of its important goals that requires individuals (both children and parents) to stretch themselves and become more capable.

Most likely you will want to propose to your family some purpose that specifically states or strongly implies helping one another be all that each can be. Two powerful possibilities emerge from such a purpose.

First, from that general purpose, you can help your family develop goals for the family as a whole as well as goals related to each member of the family. For example, to develop to be a helpful family, the family might decide to work toward the goal of being able to handle conflict calmly. Such family goals will come from considering what the family will need to do in order to be able to reach its purpose. Thus, a clear purpose helps a family decide what behaviors by the family and by the individual family members will be appropriate.

But, the family purpose will also help identify what will get in the way of helping the family and its members be all that they can be.

The family could also develop three goals for each member of the family based on what that member wants to do to be more successful, happier, etc. It then becomes the whole family's responsibility to help each family member work toward those individual goals.

Thus, a family purpose can be the measure as to what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate, right or wrong. For example, if one child takes something (steals) from another, it is not dealt with as simply wrong, but as also negatively affecting that brother or sister as well as not being in line with the family’s purpose of helping one another enjoy life. Likewise, when people do not do their chores, they can be confronted by the family purpose and how such irresponsibility affects others. The family purpose should make disciplining kids more understandable and loving.


When you continually do things for people that they can do for themselves, you make them dependent and cripple them. Likewise, when you do things for the family that the family can do, you cripple the family. Doing way too much for the family and its members subtly communicates that the family and its members are not able to do things that they most surely can do. (It is no wonder so many people in families do so little.) It also robs individuals and the family of a chance to practice greater and greater maturity.

Take for example the situation where a family member is too talkative and pushy. Most models suggest that the parent take the child aside and talk to him or her about the unwelcome behavior. This takes away a very strengthening opportunity for the family.

The empowering model of family leadership teaches that the family as a whole should deal with the domineering member, that he or she is the family's problem. And so one or both parents should instead help the family deal with the dysfunctional behavior. The members and the family as a whole become more skillful. The family members will not only have to confront, but also learn to support and encourage in order to keep the child who is too talkative and pushy constructively engaged with the family.

Giving the family the problem is critical to the development of the family and its members in many ways. Most important is the the fact that the family can do many jobs a thousand times better than one or two parents. The family as a whole has more resources, more talent, more synergy, more time, more energy, and so on.

Therefore, the successful parent is constantly vigilant to assure that he or she does not hold the family and its members back by doing things that the kids or the family as a whole can do. Instead of talking, directing, empathizing, and a host of other things the family and its members can do better, the wise parent is constantly thinking about what the family needs to do to be a more dynamic family, briefly modeling behavior that no family member can model, and teaching what no family member or members can teach. Then the wise parent gives those tasks modeled and taught to the family for it and its members to do from that time on.

I hope that it is obvious that I am talking about "the growing edge" of skills as well as the more important things the family addresses. I am not talking about giving all of the housework of the family to the kids.

To illustrate giving work to individuals to aid in their march toward maturity, imagine that two younger children in the family get into a quarrel over toys. Thousands of times the parent has modeled how to handle such a situation lovingly. Eventually, a mother or father should ask an older teenager in the family to help the two younger siblings resolve their disagreement. The parent should supervise directly or indirectly, because the major task is not resolving the arguing of the two younger children, but teaching a vital life skill to the teenage son or daughter.

Another example might be to have a senior in high school pay the family bills and balance the checkbook for six months. This could be done by the parents, as usual, but then a teaching opportunity would disappear. The teen will be paying bills and balancing checkbooks for the rest of his or her life.

Now for an example of giving a problem to the family. Let’s say that a teenager is just about to get his driver’s license. The family now needs to have a car available for that youngster to drive occasionally. The family should deal with this together.

Or let’s imagine that the family dog is getting out of the yard. What would be gained for a parent to solve this alone, if there is time for the family to find a solution together? Together the family might find a better or more complete answer. Furthermore, the children would learn how to solve problems, think of alternative solutions, etc.


Dick Wulf, MSW, LCSW
Colorado Springs, Colorado


© 2010 Dick Wulf and