We'd all like to have the perfect family - one like we remember from "Father Knows Best" or "Leave It To Beaver."

But those perfect families don't just happen. Family relationships take work.There are seven key characteristics of strong families, says Thomas R. Lee, family and human development specialist with the USU Extension Service.

Those seven keys are: fun, decision-making skills, communication, caring, values, pride, confidence.

And there are things you can do in each of these areas to build and develop stronger families. Last week we provided a questionnaire to help you identify areas you might want to emphasize. This week, we offer one activity from each of the seven areas.

These activities are taken from the Extension Service's Family Connections program. (Family Connections was initially developed as part of a program in collaboration with The Cottage Program International.)

The program features booklets with insight, information and self-help exercises in each of the seven areas. Families are asked to sign up with their County Extension office. The families are asked to identify four areas to work on, and receive materials once a month. At the end of four months, they evaluate their progress and then receive the other booklets to use on their own. Cost is approximately $6 plus postage for materials.

For more information, check with your County Extension Agent.

FAMILY CONFIDENCE

A family time line

This exercise can help remind you of some of the reasons your family is special.

Get a long piece of paper, or tape together several sheets of regular paper, and draw a long line on it with a yardstick and a marking pen. List the year of the "birth" of the family (marriage, engagement) at one end of the line, and the present date at the other.

Divide the line with the number of years in between, and begin to fill in special events as family members think of them - such as births, graduations, confirmations, moves, new jobs, etc. Fill in dates and events as long as family members enjoy discussing it.

Talk about all the special things about your family that make it unique. Have everyone sign their names to your "masterpiece" and put it up somewhere for a few days to enjoy it.

FAMILY FUN

Family fun-raising

Most families agree that it's important to spend "quality" time together. But the realities of busy lives filled with deadlines, schedules and pressures often prevent family members from enjoying one another's company. This activity is designed to help you make definite plans that include your entire family.

Prepare two idea boxes - one labeled "Free Fun" and the other "Fun Funds."

Have each family member write down ideas for things the family can do together at no cost (play games, take a night-hike, look at family photo albums or slides, etc.). Then write ideas for things the entire family can do that cost money (movies, dinner in a restaurant, overnight outings, etc.)

Discuss the no-cost ideas and cross out any the family is not interested in. Copy the remaining suggestions on to small slips of paper and put them into the "Free Fun" box.

Discuss the ideas for things that do cost money. Estimate how much it will cost for each activity. Put those ideas in the "Fun Funds" box. Decide how your family can save money to put into the box. Some possibilities:

- Everyone agrees to "pledge" an amount from paychecks and allowances each week.

- Everyone agrees to chip in 10 percent of all gift money received for birthdays, holidays and special occasions.

- At the end of the day everyone tosses in all their loose change.

Schedule at least one time each week for the family to do something from the "Free Fun" box.

Decide what the family wants to do first from the "Fun Funds" box. As soon as there's enough money, schedule a time for the activity - and start saving for the next thing on the list.

FAMILY DECISIONS

Solve a problem

One of the most important skills families teach is how to make decisions. Children learn this best in families where they actually have a chance to make decisions. Here's a way to practice decision-making.

Have each family member choose one of the situations below, and write down how they would go through the steps of decision-making. Then, each person can discuss what they would decide for the problem they chose.

Problem 1: Friday night is the big game with your school's rival school. It is also your cousin's wedding. You want to go to both. What should you do?

Problem 2: You have $25. You see the perfect sweater that will match several clothes you have. It is also just one week before your mother's birthday. You don't have enough money to buy a gift and the sweater. What should you do?

Problem 3: You have been asked to join the track team for spring season. You also want to be in the school play. Both play rehearsal and team practice are after school. What should you do?

FAMILY PRIDE

Family traditions

Traditions, especially those that have been passed down through the generations, can give a family a link to its past. They help family members understand and feel a part of those things that make the family unique. This activity can help your family look at traditions.

1. List your traditions. Have someone keep notes, and list all the traditions that your family can think of. These can be anything from something done every day to a one-a-year occasion. Some members of the family may think things are traditions that others don't. List as many as you can. You may have more than you realized.

2. Evaluate. Go over your list and discuss how much your enjoy these traditions. Are there some you'd like to do more often? Are there some that are no longer enjoyable? If there are any you decide to drop, cross them off the list. Put a star by any you'd like to do more often.

3. Add new traditions. Is there something you would like to have as a family tradition? It can be anything that your family does that says "our family is special." Ask: What would the activity be? How often would we do it? What would the purpose be?

Some possibilities include: Some special way of saying goodnight. Waffles every Sunday or leftovers every Wednesday. A special chair or plate on birthdays for special recognition. Making your own birthday or Christmas cards. Getting each child an ornament for Christmas. Children taking turns staying up late with parents.

4. Keep the list. You may wish to keep the list out for a few days to see if you think of anything else. Then put it away for a several months or a year. Repeat the evaluation process.

FAMILY VALUES

Dear Abby

Parents and children may want to talk about moral issues that concern them, but it's not always easy. This activity provides a way for families to talk about values and moral issues before there are problems requiring discipline.

Choose letters from the Dear Abby column in the newspaper that are appropriate for your family.

One person reads the question, but not the answer.

Everyone else, including parents, takes a turn giving advice to the letter writer. Give reasons for your advice.

Other family members can ask questions and disagree with someone's advice without criticizing, insulting or making fun of each other.

FAMILY

CARING

Secret love notes

In strong families, people truly care about one another's well-being, and they say so. Telling people they're appreciated and cared for can help them feel good about themselves. The following activity can help family members notice the good things about each other.

Suggest family members begin looking for examples of things they particularly like about each other. These might be: the way another person behaves. Talent, skills and achievements. Special qualities and characteristics that make the other person unique. Something nice the other person did or said.

Encourage family members to let each other know how they feel by writing short notes about the things they've noticed. You might want to provide a special note pad for each person.

Tuck the notes under the person's pillow or slip them into a backpack, lunch bag, purse, guitar bag, coat pocket, book, etc.

Every family member should write at least one note to each family member every week.

FAMILY

COMMUNICATION

Communication

charades

Understanding other family members' non-verbal messages is important to communicating well. This exercise is a fun way to become more aware of non-verbal messages we are sending.

Have family members write as many "feeling words" as they can think of. These are words to describe how we feel - such as "happy" or "sad."

When they have come up with as many as they can, have them read their lists as someone writes them on a poster board.

Take turns playing charades, with family members acting out the non-verbal language of a feeling word on the list while other fmaily members try to guess the feeling word.

FAMILY

CONFIDENCE

A family time line

++

This exercise can help remind you of some of the reasons your family is special.

Get a long piece of paper, or tape together several sheets of regular paper, and draw a long line on it with a yardstick and a marking pen. List the year of the "birth" of the family (marriage, engagement) at one end of the line, and the present date at the other.

Divide the line with the number of years in between, and begin to fill in special events as family members think of them - such as births, graduations, confirmations, moves, new jobs, etc. Fill in dates and events as long as family members enjoy discussing it.

Talk about all the special things about your family that make it unique. Have everyone sign their names to your "masterpiece" and put it up somewhere for a few days to enjoy it.