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  • Writer's pictureHoffstetter Counseling

7 ways To Improve Family Communication

Good communication is the key to any good relationship, but family communication is especially important because of the intimacy level. Do you regularly get together to talk about problems and let each other know how much you are loved and appreciated? Or is your idea of family communication nodding to one another as you pass in the hallway on the way to the bathroom? Your family communication style sets the tone for how family members interact with the rest of society, the workplace, school mates, and future relationships. If you want to improve your family intimacy, put your children on the road to healthy and productive relationships by practicing these seven simple steps to better family communication.

Create Family Traditions, like 'Game Night'

1. Create Opportunities for Talking It is no secret that Americans are over worked, over committed and over scheduled. Parents rush home from a long day at the office to pick up their children from daycare on the way to soccer practice, piano practice, Girl Scouts, religious education classes, and a quick stop at the mall, all before hitting the drive-through window to pick up a carton of fast food. The hurried pace of today’s family life leaves little room for conversation. Mix in a teenager that would rather text her friends than chat with Mom or Dad while being chauffeured to her next activity and we have a family communication crisis.

Make time for talking by reducing the number of activities your family is involved in each week. Your children will not be harmed if they cut their extra-curricular activities to two or three instead four or five, and the time it frees up for communication will be invaluable.

If you find yourself in the car running from place to place, make a point to turn the radio off, ask the teenager to turn the cell phone off and use that opportunity for catching up on the day’s activities.

If necessary, schedule an appointment with your family for having a conversation. Extremely busy people have the need to schedule everything, including their leisure time. You wouldn’t think twice about making an appointment at the hair salon or spa, so why not do the same with your greatest priorities like family?

2. Insist on Family Meals In addition to bringing everyone together for a wrap up of the day’s activities, family meals insure that your kids are eating at least one healthy meal during their busy schedules. While it might not be possible to eat dinner together every night, insisting on family meals at least three nights a week, with one a standing appointment, creates ritual and routine that kids come to expect and look forward to.

Use the family dinner table as an opportunity to relax and share what’s going on in family members’ lives. Do not consider your children a captive audience by lecturing while eating dinner.

Make a habit of serving dessert during family meals to encourage people to stay seated longer and keep the conversation going. If possible, eliminate distractions such as the television or answering the telephone. Once your children realize that they are more important to you than the news or whoever is on the phone, they will readily share their innermost thoughts.

3. Highs and Lows Going around the room and asking each person to share the high and low points of their day is an excellent way to build family communication. Something that your child didn’t even know was bothering him might come out as a low point. At the same time, this might be your opportunity to learn your son was chosen student of the day by his teacher, a ceremonial honor that does not include a certificate, crown or official recognition.

4. Go on Dates with Your Children, Individually Spending individual time with each of your children lets them know that they matter and are not getting lost in the hubbub of a busy day or large family.. Older teens might enjoy going out for a hamburger or a latte at their favorite new coffee shop. Surprisingly enough, younger children enjoy going to the supermarket, especially when you let them select their favorite cereal or special dessert.

Don’t forget your spouse or older family members that live with you. Regular date nights for couples and lunches with aging parents keeps those relationships healthy as well.

5. Remember the 80/20 Rule Listening is more important than talking when trying to improve family communication. Listen four times longer than you speak. Likewise, think twice about what you say, before you say it. Sometimes a parent’s first reaction is to rant and scream, especially to negative news. Do your best to avoid this and if you do verbally explode before your child is finished, apologize quickly and assure him or her that you are now ready to listen.

6. Use Technology to Your Advantage Are you one of those people who sends lengthy family newsletters every year at Christmas? If so, consider writing a family newsletter that you publish weekly or monthly, just for your immediate family.  Ask everyone in the family to contribute “articles” and tidbits about themselves, and don’t forget to include games and puzzles as part of the publication. For example, younger children can create a name search of everyone in the family. Artistic family members can draw a photo or use the computer to create an image that has hidden messages for people to decipher.

Other uses of technology include creating a family website, or family blog. This would be especially helpful to families that find keeping in touch difficult as people grow up and move away. Lastly, do not forget the cell phone and sending text messages.

If your son is facing a big test one afternoon, send him a text message at lunch letting him know you’re behind him. Send your husband a message telling him you love him.

7. Create Family Traditions Tucking the kids into bed at night, listening to their prayers, doing the dishes together, scheduling a monthly 'game night', helping with homework, attending church, or creating special holiday menus are all examples of family traditions. Family members come to expect and appreciate these traditions, seeing them as opportunities to share in each other’s lives and improve communication. If your family lacks a tradition there is no reason you cannot start a new one. And traditions do not have to be culturally or religiously significant either. One family has the unique tradition of speaking the phrase “Ribbit Ribbit” to one another on the first day of the month. To this day, with the children both in college and the parents busy with work, family members smile when the phone rings on the 1st and they hear “Ribbit Ribbit” on the other end.

Maintaining positive family communication benefits the family in so many ways. Children feel comfortable sharing their problems with parents, reducing the risk of peers having an undue influence on their lives. Parents remain connected and intimate with each other and their children, strengthening the family bonds. And all family members develop effective communication styles that can improve the quality of their relationships beyond the family home. Why not start talking today?

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