Communication is the heart of strong family bonds, but it doesn’t always come easily. Kids especially need to learn specific communication skills to keep the family dynamic respectful, open and honest. Even adults often need to brush up on their skills. Work on these aspects of communication to foster positive relationships and minimize conflict in your family.
Why Is Communication Important in a Family?
Before learning how to do it, you may wonder why communication within the family is so important. Communication helps you understand each other better and ensure the needs of all family members are met. Without communication, family members may feel distant from one another, and conflicts may go unresolved. Healthy communication also gives all family members a sense of security when it comes to expressing themselves.
Communication involves both someone sending the message and someone else receiving it. It’s easy to tune out when someone else is talking or to simply wait for that person to stop speaking so you can give your rebuttal. But failing to really hear the message from your family member causes a breakdown in communication.
Active listening means you’re giving all your attention to the person who’s talking. You’re not thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner. You’re not watching TV and only half listening. You’re not thinking of your own response, and you’re not interrupting. When everyone in the family actively listens to one another, you cut down on miscommunication and missed information. You also show the person who’s talking that you value her and what she has to say.
Practice actively listening by shutting off the TV and putting down electronic devices when having a conversation with each other. Repeating back the main idea of what the person just said also shows that you’re listening, as does acknowledging feelings the person expresses. Enforce the rule of not interrupting one another when talking, so the speaker gets the courtesy of finishing his full thought.
Expressing yourself clearly is also important within a family. Instead of dropping hints or expecting people to pick up on what you’re feeling, work on saying directly what you want others to know. “I” messages tend to work best. An “I message” means you express how you feel with something like, “I feel frustrated when I’m trying to do my homework and everyone is being loud.” Instead of focusing on what family members do that’s a problem, the speaker focuses on how she feels.
The words you say are only part of the communication process. Nonverbal communication is an important part of figuring out how other family members feel and what they’re really trying to say. When your child says he’s “fine,” but you see his slumped shoulders and upset facial expression, you know something else is going on.
Young kids may need help learning to pick up on those nonverbal cues. Look at her posture, eye contact and facial expressions for clues about her feelings. Help young kids notice those subtle expressions to help develop empathy and better understand the situation.
Nonverbal communication is also part of respectful conversations between family members. If nonverbal language shows that someone is annoyed or doesn’t want to be in the conversation, it creates tension and an atmosphere of disrespect. Lack of eye contact makes people feel like you’re not listening. Teach your kids to focus on their own nonverbal communication when others talk to create a positive communication climate within the family.
Conflicts arise in families, but how you handle them can come down to communication. Family members have the right to feel upset and even angry at times. Focus on keeping communication calm without shouting, name-calling or accusations. This might mean that everyone in the family practices cooling down before confronting an issue. Taking deep breaths or waiting five minutes before having a conversation about the issue can help.
Kids may need guidance to help resolve conflict situations. Suggest options that help balance the needs and desires of everyone involved rather than choosing sides. If the kids are fighting over the family computer, you might suggest scheduling a set amount of time for each person, for example. Focus more on coming to a suitable resolution than who’s right and who’s wrong.