Strong families communicate. They take time to talk and listen to one another. They share their hopes and dreams, feelings and concerns. They take the time to listen and respond to what others have to say.
Here are some ideas for improving communication at home:
Hide the Remote. Sometimes we get so busy that we get out of touch. Make the time to talk. Turn off the TV and have a conversation about something. Talk about feelings and experiences while riding in the car, working in the yard, doing the dishes, or getting ready for bed. Encourage family members to share by saying things like "What was the best part of the day for you?" "Tell me more." and "Wow! What a neat (scary, etc.) experience."
A Talking Game. Try playing a talking game at dinnertime, during quiet time with each other, or at family parties. On small pieces of paper, write fun questions you'd like family members to answer, like "What age would you like to be?" and "If I were an animal, I would like to be . . . " or more serious ones like "What are you most deeply afraid of? Why?" Make the questions appropriate for the ages of the family members. Place the questions in a box and have each person draw out a slip of paper and respond to the question.
Listening with the Head and Heart. This involves listening beyond words to the meanings and feelings attached to them. A good listener can better understand and respond to the needs and concerns of others. It means laying aside personal views and really trying to understand the other person's point of view. Even if you don't agree with another's perspective, you can make sure you understand them before responding. Follow these guidelines to practice head-and-heart listening:
1. Give full attention. Put aside lectures, reactions, feelings, perceptions, and judgments; eliminate distractions; and try to see the world through his or her eyes.
2. Acknowledge feelings. Say things like "You must have been embarrassed" or "This is really important to you."
3. Invite more discussion. Often, acknowledging a person with a simple "Oh . . . Mmm . . . I see" is enough.
4. Show understanding by paraphrasing. This is the process of restating or reflecting (not parroting) the essence of or feelings embedded in what the other person has said. It can be especially useful when trying to help a person get to the heart of a problem. For instance, "It sounds as though you felt really discouraged when your teacher didn't take your opinions seriously. Is that right?"
The Power of Positive Thinking. Family members who are inclined to complain may have trouble seeing the positive in one another. But families benefit when we look for positive things about one another and comment on them sincerely and often.