Growing effective communication in any context, including our families, requires thoughtful intentionality and modelling. A recent Kids Matter article highlights four components of building healthy communication within the family that are good habits for communication in broader contexts. The first is to cultivate habits of listening by creating times for extended conversation where people learn to listen carefully to each other (Pastor Tim’s article has a simple strategy for growing this). This includes making the most of opportunities to talk and listen by learning where this happens best for each member of the family. Sometimes this occurs around doing things together such as walking, playing games or sharing a meal around the table together.
Taking extra care when talking about problems and learning to use “I” statements rather than judgmental “You” statements and agreeing to pause when issues are likely to escalate are other important components. Taking this time out can help people lower emotions and gain perspective before damaging words are shared. As we pause, we let each other know that this is an important matter we want to talk about effectively and that at the moment “I am feeling too … to discuss this properly”.
The final component is that of repairing damaged relationships. The old wisdom of not letting the sun go down on anger or hurt is a good one to cultivate within the family. Any relationship will have times of hurt and conflict. Being able to put this in perspective and finding ways to work through hurt, including being able to apologise or to identify hurts, avoids them festering for years and breaking relationships. Safety for openness about frustrations, disappointments, hurts and mistakes are key. Building from a Christian perspective where God forgives us all of our shortcomings, helps us to respond in a more gracious, understanding and forgiving way.