Building Strong Families with Appreciation

by Jonathan D. Sherman, LMFT

This column is the second in a series that covers the six most common traits of strong families. Remember the acronym ACCCTS (A-Triple C-T-S)? The A stands for Appreciation. Appreciation is a small thing that makes a big difference. Appreciation is the oil in the family’s engine: it keeps the engine running smoothly and it keeps the heat down. It is very energizing when people notice and appreciate you. Appreciation is characterized by short and sweet everyday (frequent) expressions. Strong families appreciate "invisible work." "Invisible work" is the work that's done without thought of recognition and is often taken for granted (i.e., meals, laundry, working at employment, etc.). It is work that is usually only noticed when it's not done. For example, “Honey, where are my blue socks?” Strong families notice invisible work.

Practical Technique: Two Ways to Teach It

How do you teach this idea of appreciation? There are two simple ways. One is to teach it directly. For example, once a month take the children to a "nice" (not fancy) restaurant so they can learn and practice manners. Teach them to say, "Thanks for taking us" and so forth. Christina Marshall, Ph.D., a professor at BYU had her children come down and look at the clean floor she had just mopped and made them say, "Thanks, Mom, for making our floors so clean for us." They sure thought it was corny, but they never forgot again to notice her “invisible work.” The second is to model it indirectly by saying, "Thanks...", "I appreciate...", "That helped a lot...", and so forth. These two teaching approaches are important to remember not only with appreciation but also with all of ACCCTS: it is more effective first to model and then to teach.

In teaching appreciation, as well as in the practice of each of the strong family characteristics it is important to remember Deutche's Law: What you give you get back. The Drs. Bill and Christina Marshall developed the Marshall's Corollaries to Deutche's Law: 1. "If you give good you get good back slowly" and 2. "If you give bad you get bad back quickly." Thus you have to be patient when introducing new behaviors into your family's system. When a new behavior is introduced into a system it usually takes at least three weeks for the behavior to take hold (i.e., family members take the person seriously — "Hey, he really means it this time."). However people who are introducing the new behavior usually get frustrated with the resistance from the family and tend to give up in about one to two weeks, if not sooner. There is then approximately a one to two week gap where we need to persevere when introducing new behaviors to make them stick. This principle applies to all of ACCCTS.

Guiding Principle: Affection

Another important aspect that falls under appreciation is the expression of affection. Strong families recognize the importance of affection. Affection is expressed in several ways. One way is through touching such as putting a hand on a shoulder, arms around, leaning against the other and so forth. Touching need not be clingy, just a little here and there. Another way is through learning and using each other’s "Love currency.” When we think of currency we think of money. Imagine taking Japanese Yen to the local McDonalds to buy a Big Mac. How successful would you be in obtaining what you want? Why not? Yen is real money. The problem is that the local McDonalds doesn’t know what to do with it so they do nothing with it. We need to learn to understand the differences in how we each have learned how to express and receive love and how to exchange this currency so both can get what they want. For example, a husband and wife often are both exchanging real and valuable affection but neither accepts it because they don't understand what is being exchanged. Compare this to one couple where the wife felt unloved by her husband even though he told her he loved her every day. Growing up in her family they gave frequent back scratches as one way of expressing love though they rarely said, “I love you.” In his family they never gave back scratches, but expressed their love through hugs and saying, “I love you.” When this couple understood this difference there were able to begin exchanging their “Love Currency” in meaningful ways. To apply this, ask what is important to the other person to show love. Strong families have their own form of love currency that develops over time and they learn to respect and respond to each person's unique Love Currency.

Guiding Principle: Become a Diamond Expert

It is astounding to realize that people often treat the ones they love worse than they might treat a stranger. Most of us would excuse ourselves if we bumped into a stranger in a crowded store. Yet, when we bump into our brother at home, we're likely to say, "Why don't you look where you're going ya big klutz!" Nick Stinnett, a pioneering researcher of strong families defines appreciation this way, "Diamond miners spend their working lives sifting through thousands of tons of dirt looking for a few tiny diamonds. Too often, we do just the opposite in our intimate relationships. We sift the diamonds searching for dirt. Our strong families are diamond experts."

Practical Techniques: Catch Them Being Good

Many families take each other for granted until something happens to upset the routines. The routines of daily living often dull appreciation. For example, parents often forget to let their children know how much their good behavior is appreciated. Too often children fail to let their parents know how nice it is to come home to a good meal, a clean house and a regular allowance. Each forgets to find the diamonds. It is amazing how far a little appreciation goes in a family where there is little of it. Parents in strong families emphasize positive behaviors and attitudes exhibited by their children. They avoid overemphasis on minor negative transgressions.

So how to find the good when it seems like sometimes there is precious little around? Just as we are usually experts at pointing out what’s wrong we can learn to catch each other being good. Start by looking for the tiny little things that you like, that are helpful and say, “Hey! I caught ya! I noticed that you picked up your coat without my having to ask. That really helps me. Thanks.”

When discussing appreciation, Frank Cox, a family scientist, sometimes suggests to his college students that a simple phone call home to say that they had a wonderful day in school and really appreciated their parents' support could do wonders. One student reported that she had done this after class. When she returned home on the weekend, she found her parents ecstatically happy about the call. They told her they had never realized that she even recognized their efforts on her behalf; much less that she appreciated them. She said that the weekend turned out to be the best she had spent with her family in some time.

The ability to appreciate others starts with appreciation of oneself. When we don't feel good about ourselves, it is difficult to feel good about and love others. And, of course, we learn to feel good about ourselves by having others appreciate and love us. Thus strong families seem able to start a circular process of "I appreciate and respect you, you learn to appreciate and respect yourself, which leads you to appreciate and respect me." Strong families start this pattern early in their children's lives.

Consider this: When we have a toothache we really appreciate not having one, right? But when our teeth feel fine how often do we stop and say, "My it feels good to have strong teeth today!" Silly? Maybe. Appreciation can seem silly but, honestly, which is sillier: Constantly focusing on the negative, which brings us down and drains us? Or focusing on what's positive and what works, which encourages and gives us strength to draw us up when down and out?

So how does each member in your family most feel loved? Find out! Even if you think you already know, ask them. You may be surprised.

Watch for the next column where we will look at commitment as a strategy for creating greatness in your relationships.

Jonathan Sherman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Consultant specializing in creating "greatness in relationships." He is experienced in assisting people learn to improve their marriages, their parenting and themselves through skill development, life coaching, overcoming depression and anxiety, stress and anger management, and addiction recovery. He teaches extensively throughout Utah County on a wide range of relationship topics. He is the founder of Bardos Relationship Consulting located in the Prairie Gate Professional Building in the Ranches, Suite 200. You may reach him at 801.787.8014, or at

Appreciation Examples
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This article provided courtesy of Bardos Relationship Consulting• 801.787.8014 •