Even though many of us take it for granted, family communication is the foundation for a successful life as a family. Effective communication is the number one tool we all have at our disposal to interact with family members, friends, and everyone else we come into contact with. Good communication is a factor you can control to ensure your home and your family relationships are more positive than negative.
Research shows that the quality of familial interactions greatly influences how satisfied family members are with their relationships with one another. As you’d suspect, ineffective or negative communication patterns typically have a negative impact on relationships and they’re often an indicator of increased arguments and disagreements among family members.
To free your family of negative communication patterns, you’ll have to do some work. In fact, your whole family may need to address some issues that are preventing your family from communicating in a healthy manner. Overcoming your own emotional and communicative immaturities, being more mindful and thoughtful, and exercising patience collectively represent a good place to start for anyone who wants to improve their family communication.
Make the Most of Quality Time
Spending time together can strengthen relationships between members of the family and create opportunities that help open lines of communication for comfortable discussions. By sharing in positive activities, conquering challenges, and working as a unified family unit, you will build better bonds.
Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition can help you (literally) uncover unique adventures that you can do together. With over 50 ideas inside, this interactive book allows you to scratch off a new challenge every week to keep you busy for a whole year!
Negative Family Communication Patterns
According to Psychology Today, parents make some common mistakes when they deal with their children’s unacceptable behavior. When well-intentioned parents make these mistakes, it creates conflict and, even worse, damages their relationships with their kids and each other.
Here are the most common communication patterns that result in deteriorating relationships among family members:
- Parents blaming each other for their kids’ misbehavior
- Shaming, lecturing, or criticizing their children
- Putting too much emphasis on punishments
- Announcing new rules with no family discussion
- Demonstrating disrespectful or impulsive actions
Tips to Improve Your Family Communication Patterns
No matter how eager you are to improve your family interactions, you need to understand that it will take time and effort to make sustainable changes, particularly if your kids are older and they have established communication patterns of their own. All hope isn’t lost, however. The adage “good things come to those who wait” has been around for generations, after all. In this case, you’ll have to actively wait for changes to occur.
What does actively wait mean? It means you’ll have to be patient for lasting changes to your family interactions to occur while you simultaneously participate in the changes themselves.
Lead by Example
Whether you’re working on communication between members of your nuclear family or your extended family, it’s important for you to lead by example. The quality of communication between parents has a big impact on the effectiveness of their parenting, their relationships with their kids, and their children’s happiness.
With those things in mind, improving your family’s overall communication should start with you making some key changes to the way you interact with your significant other. When you talk to your partner, make sure you model positive behavior and be mindful of your body language and the words you choose. Avoid displaying behavior that’s disrespectful or dismissive and refrain from using language that’s degrading, demoralizing, or confrontational.
Choose to be a united front with your partner. If you have a disagreement, work it out in private if you can. Arguments that happen in front of your kids should be respectful and include no name-calling or labeling. Just because you might not have liked what your partner did, it doesn’t make them a “loser” or any other sort of derogatory being. To prevent mixed messaging among your kids, inform them of parenting decisions with your partner at your side after the two of you have reached an agreement.
Make Yourself Available
It can be challenging to carve out time to talk to family members but doing so should be a priority. Even if you set aside just 10 minutes to talk to each of your family members every day, it can be the differentiating factor between perpetuating unhealthy communication habits and developing new, healthier communication skills.
During the time you speak to family members individually, make sure there are no distractions. Turn off the TV or radio and leave your smartphone in the other room so you can give your family members your undivided attention. Make eye contact with your loved ones and let them know that you hear and value whatever information they choose to share with you. While the information may seem inconsequential to you, it’s important enough for your family member to bring up in conversation, so be grateful.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening is an art of sorts that’s essential to effective communication. To put it simply, active listening simply is a listening style that keeps a person fully engaged and immersed in a conversation with someone else in a positive, supportive manner. By practicing active listening, you make the person speaking feel as if they’ve been heard and you demonstrate that their message has value.
Just hearing what someone says isn’t the same as active listening. When you actively listen to another person, you’re concentrating on their words and reacting to what they’re saying.
Here are some characteristics of active listening that make the practice distinct from merely hearing what someone says:
- Active listening is a nonjudgmental and neutral art
- The practice entails patience, without you filling in silent stretches with mindless or unrelated chatter
- Active listening involves physical signs and nonverbal communication that shows you’re listening, such as eye contact, leaning in, smiling, frowning, nodding, shaking your head, etc.
- The practice often involves a listener asking questions, reflecting on what’s been said, and requesting clarification of certain points
- In general, a person engaged in active listening will summarize what’s been said at the end of a speaker’s dialogue
As an active listener, it’s vital that you refrain from interrupting the conversation or inserting your own ideas, remembrances, or remedies into the dialogue. The point of the practice is for you to listen to what the speaker has to say. To do that without interrupting, it’s helpful to remember that what the person is telling you is more about them than it is you. That recognition can go a long way toward improving your communication patterns when you interact with your family.
As an active listener, it’s necessary for you to know when it’s okay or appropriate to change the subject from what someone was talking about to something else. As a general rule, you should avoid changing the subject abruptly because you may give the speaker the impression that you weren’t listening or that their message is meaningless to you. Remember, active listening is a learned behavior. By modeling the practice, you can help your family members adopt active listening skills.
Empathizing with another person is important if you want to improve your family interactions. When you empathize, you basically tune into someone else’s feelings and let them know you understand what they’re going through. There is no judgment or pity in empathizing. The practice is all about relating to what someone else is experiencing.
To empathize in a helpful manner, it’s crucial that you avoid telling someone what you’re feeling. It’s equally important to avoid trivializing the person’s emotions by saying things like “it’s ridiculous to feel that way” or “you’ll understand better when you have kids of your own.” The person has a right to feel however they do about the issue at hand, and you need to respect that even if you think the person’s reaction is over the top.
Schedule Family Time
Also known as quality time, family time is time you dedicate to being with your family members. Family time should be a regular thing for your family as it will give you the chance to make lasting memories, interact, and get caught up with each other’s lives and recent experiences.
Some families struggle to schedule quality time because their lives are already so busy. Just like work and your kids’ extracurricular activities are important, so is family time. To get the most out of these familial get-togethers, you should prioritize family time as much as you do work and other things that are important to you and your family members.
To make your kids excited about family time, you might want to plan some fun activities your family can do together. For starters, you can get a family adventure book from Let’s Roam. As its name implies, our family adventure book is designed to take your whole family on adventures. The book includes fun-filled bonding activities for kids of all ages, and it enables everyone to employ their imaginations.
Alternatively, you might want to invite your family to play some hilarious online trivia games during your scheduled quality time. Online trivia games are a ton of fun and family members can participate from any location that has an internet connection.
Engage in Activities Together
In addition to playing online trivia games, you should do other things as a family. If you want to practice mindfulness, you may want to learn how to meditate with your family members. Are your children artistic? Your family can create artwork together or you can visit an art museum or gallery as a group.
If you want to open your children’s minds up to new experiences, consider taking them to a lecture, a live performance of some kind, or a book reading. Spiritual centers often offer family activities, such as retreats. Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community while spending time with loved ones.
Provide Positive Reinforcement
In some cases, it can be easy for parents to overlook their kids’ improved communication skills. It’s wise to keep an eye out for instances where your children put their new communication patterns into practice and to praise them. By praising their new skills, you’ll increase the chances that those new communication practices will become lifelong habits.
Your praise doesn’t have to be elaborate. Simply telling your child that you liked the way she phrased something or just thanking your child for sharing some information with you is enough to communicate your approval and appreciation.
Families typically have three types of rituals, patterned interactions, traditions, and celebrations. While the three kinds of rituals are different, they’re all important to family communication.
Patterned interactions are the most common type of family ritual because they occur regularly, as their name suggests. These rituals include things like eating together, going to bed, and having company over. Although patterned interactions are less formal than other rituals, they’re still very important to a cohesive family life as they reinforce common beliefs and shared values.
Traditions often vary from family to family. Family traditions are events like birthdays, annual vacations, and family reunions. Your family traditions are built around the things that are important to you and your family. Because you create family traditions over time, these rituals are the results of the means you use to make family decisions.
Family celebrations are more formal affairs that represent more standardized norms across cultures. Examples of family celebrations include weddings, graduations, holidays like Thanksgiving, and rites of passage, such as quinceañeras and bar and bat mitzvahs.
Celebrations are usually celebrated widely within a culture. In addition to giving families a reason to rejoice, family celebrations give people the chance to celebrate their culture, establish stability within their families, and create familial customs that will last for generations.
Make Major Decisions as a Team
If you have to make a decision that will impact your entire family like where you’re going to take your next family vacation, include everyone in the decision-making process, even young kids. Kids of all ages will have an opinion about where your family should spend its vacation, and it’s important to give everyone a voice in the discussion.
Even if you already have a vacation destination in mind, you can still involve the rest of your family in the final decision. Just letting your family members express their thoughts and opinions might be all that’s needed for them to get behind your idea for a vacation. If there’s resistance to your chosen destination, a family meeting will give you the opportunity to explain your choice and address any dissenting opinions.
For example, your children might not be in favor of a local staycation. But they might be more enthused if you explain you’re looking for staycation ideas from them because of the pandemic. Similarly, your kids might frown when you mention spending your upcoming vacation with extended family members, but they might rally behind the idea if you tell them that’s the best option considering your household budget.
Be Supportive of Independent Choices
While big decisions that affect the whole family should be made as a team whenever possible, your kids and significant other should still be free to make their own choices about smaller things. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you may want to let her choose what she wears to school regardless of what you personally think about the outfit she puts together. If your husband decides to make lasagna on a night when you’d prefer nachos, be thankful and supportive.
You don’t have to agree with every decision your family members make to be supportive. Just because they choose an available option that you wouldn’t doesn’t mean their choice is wrong. It simply means it’s their choice, and it’s an expression of their thoughts, opinions, and values, which you need to respect.
Acknowledge and Respect Differences
No two people are exactly alike regardless of how closely related they might be. Acknowledging and respecting the differences that exist between your family members can help improve your overall communication.
The key is to acknowledge and respect in equal measure so that no one feels slighted, undervalued, or ignored. If one of your kids excels at sports, you shouldn’t favor him over another child who is a musical prodigy just because you prefer the former extracurricular activity over the latter. Both skills are wonderful talents that should be acknowledged, supported, and respected equally.
As it relates to communication, it’s important to recognize that not everyone is going to communicate in the same way. Some family members may find it easier to share information in a one-on-one conversation instead of in a family meeting. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Just like people have different talents, skills, and strengths, they have preferred communication patterns. As you labor to improve your family communication, make it a point to pay attention to those patterns so you can adapt to them seamlessly to keep the conversation going.
Share Family Stories
Family stories are important, and you should share them with the members of your family. By sharing stories, you can connect generations indelibly, even if some family members have passed on. Hearing stories will help your kids know their roots and why certain extended family members are the way they are and act the way they do.
Sharing stories is a great way to reinforce traditions. Stories are also fantastic conversation starters. Your kids might want to know more about how their grandmother fought injustice before she immigrated to the United States. Did you play sports in high school or college? Your children may want to hear about your athletic achievements, and they might be inspired to follow in your footsteps.
Take an Active Interest in Your Family Members’ Lives
To improve your family’s communication, you should take an active interest in your family members’ lives. Does your daughter play sports? Attend her games, observe a practice, and talk to her about her experience on the field. Is your son a performer? Go to his shows, cheer him on, and discuss his performance on the way home.
Taking an active interest in the lives of your family members will show you care about what matters to them. It also increases the chances that they’ll talk to you about their interests openly because they know you care and support them without judgment.
Create Family Rules
It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to interact properly if they’re unsure about how they should engage with one another. Whether you do it as a family or you and your partner establish rules, you have to set guidelines for your family’s communication and interactions.
One rule you may want to consider is that everyone has to do an assigned household chore every day. Even if your 12-year-old stomps around the house as he’s collecting dishes to put into the dishwasher, it’s okay as long as he does his chore. Your child has every right to express his opinion about his chore by stomping his feet, but he still has to complete his assigned task.
You may want to establish guidelines for communication, too. Banning sarcasm, forbidding eye-rolling, and ruling out other disrespectful behaviors like interrupting is a good place to start. Requiring everyone to participate in a family meeting is another rule you may want to set. Even if a given family member is reluctant to speak during a family meeting, you can involve the person by asking them a direct question that requires more than a one-word answer.
Roam from Home
To get the communication going, consider scheduling some fun family activities through Let’s Roam. Our fun-filled city scavenger hunts and in-home family adventures help loved ones communicate while enjoying each other’s company and completing engaging tasks. Contact us so your family can roam from home today!
Frequently Asked Questions
Show an interest in your family members’ lives, practice active listening, show empathy, and acknowledge and respect differences. For more details, see these tips for healthy family communication.
If you’re establishing guidelines for healthy family communication, think about banning sarcasm, forbidding eye-rolling, and ruling out other disrespectful behaviors like interrupting.