Improving Family Communication – Part 1

Positive family communication is highly desired, and yet sometimes it is hard to achieve.  Search Institute, a non-profit, non-sectarian research foundation whose mission is to get important child development information out to parents, reported in their Search Institute Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey [self-assessments] of almost 150,000 6th- to 12th-grade youth in 202 communities across the United States in calendar year 2003 that 68% of these young people felt like they experienced family support, yet only 28% of the same young people felt as if they experienced positive family communication.  This is critical information for parents of teens (or a child soon to be a teen) because if a young person doesn’t feel as if he/she can talk to his/her parents who will he/she turn to for advice?  Best case scenario:  another trustworthy adult; worst case scenario:  a peer with limited life experience or an untrustworthy adult who says what the child wants/needs to hear.

What do we use communication for?  Some of the intentions of family communication are to teach/discipline, to nurture, to keep everyone safe, to express emotion, to resolve conflict, and to tell family stories.

How do you say what you say?  Tone is critical.  John Gottman, author of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, found in his research that contempt in the voice is one of the warning signs for marriages.  Likewise, contempt or criticism from a parent towards a child hurts the parent-child relationship.  One way to talk with our children is to take on a loving, firm, but friendly voice.  One way to think of this is to remember a time when you received medical care that you appreciated.  More than likely, the medical personnel had a loving, clinical conversational tone while they were able to teach, care and guide.

When are the best times to communicate?  We have all learned that when your family is rushing out the door, when someone is emotionally upset or when someone is really busy trying to complete a task that those are not the best times to communicate with our children.  We have also learned that the best times to communicate with our children is during low-stress, more positive emotional family times such as:  meal time, riding in the car, bedtime, playtime or some other positive family activity time.  And yet if you find important family issues still unresolved consider using a family meeting, either one which is regularly scheduled or one called for this special purpose, to be sure the issues get addressed.

Another consideration when trying to communicate with your child is the concept of introvert/extrovert.  The definition of an introvert is a person who gets energized by being by him/herself.  An extrovert gets energy by being with other people.  People tend to solve problems as an introvert or as an extrovert.  An extrovert tends to talk through problems out loud.  An introvert tends to think through problems first before saying how he/she wants to resolve the problem.  Sometimes in families communication issues arise because one member of the family wants to talk and the other member is not ready.  Giving each family member a safe place to talk when he/she is ready is a respectful way to foster continued communication.



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