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6 Ways to Improve Family Communication

With work, school, and extra-curricular activities, getting the whole family to connect is a challenge. Luckily, the new Mighty Mommy has 6 ways to plug in (and unplug).

By
Cheryl Butler
June 10, 2012
Episode #184

6 Ways to Improve Family Communication

by Cheryl Butler

Do you ever wonder if your family will ever be in sync during the busy school year? Many of us are so overscheduled that we’re lucky to have a few free moments to simply shovel a quick meal down together, never mind have enough time for an actual conversation.

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Families today are faced with economic pressures and a host of work and social commitments, on top of managing the day-to-day tasks necessary to keep their households running. Because of our fast-paced lives, communication is more important than ever to maintain a strong family relationship. 

Communication isn’t just about coordinating the car pool or giving gentle reminders to your kids that they’d better put away the laundry or else. It’s about sharing your true feelings, desires, fears, and experiences with those who are dearest to you. Engaging in strong, meaningful conversation is the key to building a solid family life. This doesn’t always come easy to everyone, but with a little practice it can help bring your family closer together.

Here are 6 tips that my family of 10 has successfully implemented to stay connected and on the same page during even the busiest of times:

1. Make Time for Talking

Conversation doesn’t necessarily just happen—it requires a bit of time and effort. If you’re always on the run shuttling your kids from activity to activity, the only thing on your mind is getting to the piano lesson on time or remembering to ask your kids if they would prefer cheeseburgers or chicken nuggets for dinner (again).

If you want to build in some extra time for making small talk with your kids, try eliminating even one of the activities you have already scheduled for them. That’s right, scratch a baseball practice or one of their play dates and replace it with…NOTHING!

Call a family meeting and open the dialogue about your plans to get the family together on a regular basis. You may meet with some groans and resistance from your older kids at first, but if you are consistent in building in even a few snippets of time to interact as a family each week, chances are your kids will start looking forward to these moments almost as much as you do. Just remember, it doesn’t happen overnight—be diligent in carving out this precious time every single week.

2. Family Dates

Date nights don’t have to be for just you and your spouse. Families need regular time together to bond as well. The key here is to schedule these dates on your calendar as if they were as important as doctor’s appointments, or something else you would never think of cancelling. 

Try to think outside the box when coming up with ways to spend this time. If you have younger kids, take them on a mystery ride and surprise them with the end destination at an ice cream parlor a few towns away. The time you spend in the car can be a great opportunity to chat together as a family, especially if you turn off the car radio and have them leave their handheld game devices at home.

Tweens and teens will no doubt be more difficult to engage with this idea, but don’t give up. Come right out and ask them how they would like to spend an hour or two with the family. Maybe your son loves to surf and would like you to go check out the latest surf gear in town. Your daughter can’t get enough of shopping for the latest trendy outfits? Introduce her to an eclectic consignment shop nearby or head to the mall and get excited when she shows you why she loves to wear jeans with holes in the knees.

3. Gather ‘Round the Table

The concept of eating regular meals together is certainly nothing new. What makes this notion so difficult, however, is actually making it happen. When loved ones are enjoying dinner together, that protective steel wall many of us have up around ourselves during the day is more easily lowered because we are amongst people who understand and accept us (or at least try to). 

Sharing meals as a family is not about inhaling lasagna down so we can each get back to our computers or smartphone conversations. It’s about coming together as a unit and listening to one another talk about what’s going on in our lives. Even if the conversation is as simple as your 5-year old saying he wants a pet snake more than anything or your 17-year-old daughter announcing she has no use for geometry and can’t understand why she has to take it as a class, this is what’s on your kids’ minds. Take their lead and run with it. If they know you’re all willing to talk about the little things, it paves the way for when they need to talk about the bigger things!

4. Listen Up! 

A while back I heard a terrific acronym—W.A.I. T. (Why Am I Talking?) When trying to improve any relationship, listening is far more important than chatting. Whether it’s your spouse, your kids, or even a co-worker, if they have something important on their minds that they want to share, let them have the floor and tune in with interest. Interject your thoughts and responses when appropriate, but try and step back and really take in what the person is trying to say. You’ll never know what you’ll uncover.

5. Establish Family Traditions

Traditions are a source of comfort for many people, especially for children. Reading a story to your child every night and then tucking her in with a good-night kiss is a wonderful example of a childhood tradition. Visiting Grandma and Grandpa every Sunday for dinner is another one. Your family probably has similar ones in place and you don’t even realize it.

If your family is very young, now is the time to start implementing your own rituals so they will become a part of your family’s story. Don’t worry if you don’t have many already established, you can start a new tradition at any time. Pick one day a month to explore a new park together, or work together to create your family’s ideal menu and serve it every Saturday night when everyone can be together. Family members of all ages will come to expect and appreciate these traditions and it will inspire them to pass these along to their own children some day.

6. Unplug

If you really want to be bold and get your family’s attention, pick one day a month to unplug all the electronic devices in your home. That means the TV, the Internet, the X-Box, even (gasp!) the phone. 

Of course you’re going to get static over such a move, but the payoff will be well worth it if you can engage your family with a game of Monopoly or working on a scrapbook or planning your next trip. Even just sitting and reading or enjoying chocolate chip cookies and iced cold milk can offer up opportunities to connect.

We live in a world where there is too much stimulation from outside sources. By unplugging and taking a break from all the noise, you’re giving your family a priceless gift—the chance to learn something new about one another or to just relax without the outside world interfering.

I hope you can adapt some of these ideas into your family’s life. By opening up the lines of communication at home parents can remain close with each other and their children. By introducing opportunities to connect, family members can develop effective communication styles that can improve the quality of their relationships, both inside the home and out.

If you have a question regarding anything you’ve just read, or have a suggestion for a future Mighty Mommy episode, please e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Mighty Mommy Facebook wall. You can also follow me on Twitter @MightyMommy.

Good luck and Happy Parenting!

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 Family image courtesy of Shutterstock

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