Family Communication Rules

by Shala Munroe

    Effective communication is sometimes the most difficult around the people you spend the most time with: your family. Strong personalities and perceived injustices can keep family members from listening to each other and can turn discussions into all-out yelling matches. Setting some ground rules for your family's communication can help smooth the process.

    Much of your communication is non-verbal, using facial expression, body language and actions such as slamming doors to express your frustration. Making your family aware of how important non-verbal actions are to the overall communication process can help your family communicate better and reduce yelling matches. Set rules against inappropriate communication, such as throwing items to express anger, and create key phrases to draw each other out, such as "I can see by your body language that you're upset. Please use your words to tell me how you're feeling." Creating a calm opening for discussion can help even young children learn how to express themselves without being destructive or letting their anger escalate.

    When conflicts arise, it's essential to be honest about your feelings to end the conflict in a positive way. This requires a lack of judgement among all family members. The same incident might affect each family member differently -- you might be angry that your son broke a lamp, but he's remorseful because it was an accident while your daughter is just glad it wasn't her who broke the lamp. Everyone's feelings are valid, so make a rule that in times of conflict, all family members get a chance to express how they feel with no judgement. Don't tell your daughter she shouldn't feel glad when she's being honest about her feelings. Instead, tell her you understand why she would feel that way because no one wants to be in trouble. Giving her a chance to express her feelings in a calm way when she knows her feelings will be accepted and not judged can keep her from acting out, such as laughing at her brother or making fun of him to make sure attention is deflected away from her.

    Listening is sometimes more important that talking during communication, so rules about family communication must include listening. Listening is different than just hearing what people say; it's giving complete attention to what someone is saying, and processing it before deciding how to respond. It's common to be planning your rebuttal while the other person is talking, which keeps you from truly listening to what he has to say. Listening to other family members validates their feelings. Show that you're listening by repeating back important parts, saying things like, "So what I hear you saying is ... ." Listening works best if you are clear with what you say. Instead of yelling at your children to clean their rooms, be specific. Tell them to put their dirty clothes in the laundry room and put all toys or books in their places. Asking them to repeat back your instructions shows they were really listening to you.

    Adding respect to your family communication rules means everyone has a chance to be heard. Respecting each other means you won't interrupt, giving every family member the time he needs to express his feelings or concerns. It also means keeping family discussions within the family, refraining from talking about private or embarrassing matters in public. This doesn't mean conflicts won't arise, but it means you can cull much of the yelling and keep the discussions more constructive. If your anger is getting the better of you, time-outs can help you and your children. These aren't the punishment-type of time-out, but the kind where you step away from the conversation for a minute to calm down until you can talk about the issue without yelling or forgetting other family communication rules. Modeling this for your children is key so they can learn proper communication skills to use at school and later at work.

    About the Author

    Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.

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