It’s no secret that a strong family foundation is key to a happy and successful life. But perhaps when you try to have good communication within the family, it tends to all fall apart.
Am I right?
That’s because family communication is a tricky thing to master. Everyone has their own way of communicating, and when you add in all the different personalities within a family, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Why Communication Within the Family Can Be Difficult
How can we communicate with our kids and our parenting partners in effective ways?
Because as much time as we spend talking with them, there are also conflicts, disagreements, eye rolls and so many emotions!
Good communication skills are key for good family relationships. But many of us were never taught how to:
- be an active listener,
- pay attention to body language, or
- encourage open communication between all the people involved.
And those skills are just the ones we know of. Here’s what we miss for positive communication.
Good Communication Skills You Might Not Know About
We’re not talking about the obvious stuff, like learning to be an active listener or paying attention to body language.
Here are some questions to ask yourself. Is this happening in your home?
Do I encourage the entire family to share openly?
A family is a team, and in order for that team to be successful, everyone needs to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings openly.
This includes kids. We need to know what are kids are thinking and the thoughts behind their actions so that we can help guide them.
However, often as parents, we’ve been taught to set the rules. We also feel judged on how our kids behave, leading us to jump to assumptions and away from a positive attitude in the conversation.
As a result, kids don’t feel like they’re being heard or respected.
This happens in the relationship with your parenting partner as well. In the book Crucial Conversations this is called contributing to the pool of the meaning. In essence, you won’t be able to solve conflict within the home and provide support, if you don’t know everyone’s view point.
Do I address conflict with other members of my family in a productive way?
Conflict is inevitable in any family, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If family members can learn to address conflict in a productive way, it can actually bring the family closer together.
But how do you do this?
In Calm & Happy Parenting, we teach parents a system of family communication based in problem solving. Instead of one person – let’s face it, typically mom – figuring out how to solve bedtime, chores, etc… it becomes the entire family’s focus.
There will be more tips in this post on how to talk, listen actively and monitor your response, but keep in mind that Calm & Happy Parenting will make that process even easier.
Do I create a safe environment to talk about feelings?
In order for family members to feel comfortable communicating with each other, they need to know that they won’t be judged or ridiculed. This is true for all human interactions and be aware that this can be a challenge.
Be kind to yourself because you were probably never taught how to do this in family communication.
A safe environment doesn’t just mean an environment free of physical violence – that should be given.
Rather it’s creating an environment where the child and parent feel respect from each other and know that their own needs will be valued.
Let’s dig a little more into the importance of creating safety.
Tip 1: Create a Safe Environment for Family Communication
Psychological safety is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for expressing concerns or admitting mistakes.
It’s a concept that was first introduced by Google, who found that psychological safety was the key ingredient to making their teams successful.
And it makes sense. If family members feel like they can’t express themselves without being judged or ridiculed, they’re likely to either keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves or lash out in anger.
Neither of those options is conducive to a happy family life.
So how can you create a safe environment for family communication? Here are some tips:
– Avoid making assumptions about what other family members are thinking or feeling. Instead, use direct communication and ask them.
– Respect everyone’s opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. Children learn more appropriate behavior after they know that their opinions are respected and valued.
– Avoid judgmental language. For example, instead of saying, “You’re being lazy,” try saying, “I noticed that you didn’t do your chores today. What’s up?”
– Be aware of your own body language and nonverbal communication. If you’re rolled your eyes or crossing your arms, family members are likely to feel like they can’t express themselves. There are so many things we can read from someone’s non verbal communication.
– Don’t try to fix everything. Sometimes family members just need to be heard, not solved.
Creating a safe environment for family communication can be a challenge, but it’s worth it. When family members feel like they can express themselves without fear of being judged or ridiculed, they’re more likely to open up and share their thoughts and feelings.
Tip 2: Use active listening with other family members
One of the most important things you can do when it comes to family communication is to actually take the time to listen. Too often, we’re so busy talking that we don’t actually listen to what our kids or partners are saying.
When you take the time to listen, you show that you care about what they have to say. You also give them a chance to express themselves in a safe and judgement-free environment.
How do you practice active listening skills?
I like you, sometimes lose my focus when listening to others. Typically, I’m just waiting until they’re finished talking so I can say what I want to say.
As the host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, I’ve had to improve my active listening skills because it’s super embarrassing when I’m interviewing a guest and I have no idea what they just said.
One strategy I use is reflective listening. While someone else is speaking, I’m summarizing what they’re saying.
Then, I interject with phrases such as:
- “What I hear you saying is…”
- “What I understand is that…”
Not only does this help me listen but it also validates the other person’s feelings and emotions. As well as corrects anything I might misunderstand.
I use with my kids and I find they’re much more likely to open up to me when they know I’ve heard them.
Tip 3: Avoid assumptions and jumping to conclusions
Another common mistake that we make when communicating with our families is assuming we know what the other person is going to say, or jumping to conclusions about their intentions.
And the intentions part is huge!
Something we teach in Calm & Happy Parenting is how to be aware of the third conversation.
Whenever you have a conversation – with family especially – there are three conversations going on:
- the first conversation: these involve the thoughts and feelings that you have. You know these well.
- the second conversation: this is going on in your family members head. As parents, this is also where we tend to make the biggest communication mistakes because we can NEVER know what our kids’ intended to do unless they outright tell us, and
- the third conversation: this is what is seen from the viewpoint of an outside observer. Typically, the third conversation is based on the facts of the event and is easier to talk about without being critical of the other person.
For example, if you see clothes that have been left on the floor by your parenting partner, don’t automatically assume that they did it on purpose or expect you to do all the laundry.
That’s thinking in the second conversation.
Rather, look at the facts and use the third conversation to have more effective communication.
For instance, “Hey, I notice there are clothes on the floor in the living room. I’m not quite sure what you want me to do in this situation. I’m curious as to how you see it.”
Tip 4: Notice when children don’t feel safe in a conversation
As I mentioned above, creating a safe environment is key to effective family communication. Part of that is recognizing when another family member doesn’t feel safe.
To communicate effectively, notice if one of these things happens:
- your child or partner becomes silent and stops contributing to the conversation, or
- their response becomes “violent” by either yelling, slamming doors or accusing you of wrong doing.
These are signs that your child or partner no longer feels safe.
When that happens, practice strong communication skills by going back to recognizing their strengths and how much you care for them and value the relationship.
For example, “I love you and I think that so many things you do are wonderful. I want to spend more time with you doing fun things and less fighting about doing the dishes.”
Making others feel safe takes practice, so even though this may feel weird at first, keep trying to diffuse conversations when you notice either silence or violence.
Tip 5: Good communication comes from paying attention to your motives
Before you engage in a family conversation, take a moment to check in with yourself and see what your motives are.
If you’re trying to “win” the argument or be right, then that’s not going to lead to effective communication.
Your motive may slip into the “winning” territory over the course of the conversation. If it does, that’s ok. It happens. When you catch it, ask yourself the question:
What do I really want?
Focus on what you really want from the conversation – which is usually more understanding, cooperation and connection. It’s what ALL successful relationships are are based on.
For example, maybe you want:
- the dishes to be unloaded from the dishwasher each night without arguing about it,
- to be told about family plans ahead of time instead of last minute,
- your partner to stop leaving their clothes on the floor.
When you stay focused on your motive you’re more likely to find a solution to the problem.
Family communication can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that effective family communication is based on creating a safe environment, avoiding assumptions and monitoring your own motives.
How can I continue to improve communication within the family?
- Sign up to get No Guilt Mom emails. If you need someone to lift you up and empathize with you – while pushing to grow in all the best ways – welcome to No Guilt Mom. Plus, I send you a free gift when you sign up that will immediately reduce your stress.
- Enroll in Calm & Happy Parenting. Serious about changing the way your family communicates and deals with conflict? After taking our signature course, you’ll get more cooperation from your kids and WAY less pushback. Plus, you’ll create a strong family bond where your kids come to talk with you about issues instead of hiding them.