If laughter is the best medicine, then surely laughing while playing communication games is double the dose. Even the silliest of family games builds a relationship of trust where children learn their parents will take the time to listen, engage and thoughtfully respond. Parents who provide serious answers to seemingly inane questions like “Why is the sky blue?” encourage their children, later in life, to ask important questions like “Why should I not take drugs?” Fun games are a great way to spend quality time as a family and to improve family communication.
Children love to draw, and their creations provide a window into their thoughts, beliefs and struggles. One helpful drawing exercise is “the people in my life.” In this game, everyone in the family draws a picture of themselves and pictures of every person in their life and then connects everyone with lines. Each person then tells a story about their drawing, which can include who the people are and why they chose them. Parents can learn about a child’s friends. Children can glimpse their importance in the larger family circle. The whole family will feel a renewed sense of emotional closeness. This activity is especially useful for blended families, as well as those with different generations living under the same roof.
In the classic game charades, one person acts out -- without speaking -- a word or phrase. Interpreting gestures and other forms of nonverbal communication is an essential skill that gets better with practice. In fact, some estimates hold that 55 percent of communication is nonverbal. Regularly playing charades provides a safe environment for families to comprehend how easily gestures, messages and other forms of nonverbal communication can be misinterpreted.
Do you remember that old game telephone? One person whispers a phrase to another and then that person whispers to another and so on until the last person repeats the phrase aloud and everyone laughs because the end phrase is -- more often than not -- completely different from the original phrase. Not only is the telephone game a wonderful teaching tool about how easily communication errors happen, there’s scientific research that even positive rumors become distorted through the passing of information from person to person. Families may find this activity especially helpful when explaining the concept of rumors to their children.
Asking hypothetical questions and actively listening to the answer can provide opportunities to create meaning and relay values while having fun in the process. Write down a few silly questions and a few serious questions on scraps of paper and have each person pick a question and give an answer. It’s OK for parents to outwardly struggle with the more difficult questions because that demonstrates the value of thought and effort before speaking. In fact, ask other family members for help in answering the question. If you are having difficulty thinking of questions, the Family and Consumer Sciences department at Ohio State University offers two samples: “What animal would you like to be and why?” and “Do you think it is ever all right to tell a lie?”
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- Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service: Communication
- Exploring Family Communication and Technology Use with an Eye to Design
- College of DuPage: Communication
- Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University: The Corporate Game of "Telephone"
- The Ohio State University: Positive Family Communication
Dana Bagwell has worked in the research-and-development field for more than a decade. His work has covered gerontology, cognitive assessments, health education interventions, social science theory and research methods. Bagwell has also contributed to several scholarly publications, including "Experimental Aging Research" and "Clinical Interventions in Aging." He has a bachelor's degree in psychology and is completing his doctorate in health policy.