We noticed that among the most read articles of 2020 there is one that outlines ten tips on how to improve communication within the family.
Such great interest in this article might be due to the fact that we have found ourselves home-bound for the past year in the midst of a global health crisis. We have had fewer opportunities to socialize or travel. We have fewer distractions and diversions. We have fewer opportunities to see friends. Therefore, the walls of our homes––the space we inhabit the most––have become the main location of our daily activities.
For many drawn out months, relatives have become our only "physical" interlocutors. Whether or not we want to, we have been forced to confront the family dynamic in which we find ourselves and perhaps we have been forced to realize that communication among us…could be improved.
So what can we do? Where do we begin?
I don't pretend to be a psychologist (it's not my job), nor shall I pretend to be an arrogant family counselor.
I would just like to offer some food for thought, which comes from the observations of the Family and Media staff and my own personal experience.
1. Force yourself to have a healthy detachment from technology
We have often spoken on this page about the negative effects that technology can have in the family and in relationships with others in general. For example, we have delved into the problems that children might face due to their parents being so attentive to… their smartphones.
Our first piece of advice, if you have noticed a lack of communication in your family, is to observe and monitor your use of screens (tablets, the TV, cell phones). Try to become aware of the actual amount of time you spend in the virtual world (even time yourself if you need to!) and force yourself to reduce the time you spend "in the company" of technology. I say “force” because it will probably take a lot of effort to change your habits. If we want to succeed, we need to take this commitment as seriously as dieting when you really need to lose weight!
2. If you want to change direction, take that first step
If we notice that there is a lack of dialogue, sharing, harmony, willingness to talk, joke, and even dealing with hardships together, let's not resign ourselves to the current state of affairs, simply saying, "it’s what it is. I can't do anything about it." Let's try to make the changes we would like to see. How would you like the other person (husband/wife, son/daughter, brother/sister) to take an interest in you? Let's try to see it from the other person's perspective. When things have taken a turn for the worse, it can take time to see improvements (let's go back to the example of a diet: it takes time to see important and lasting results), but let's not give up before we’ve even begun. You have to try and, above all, persevere!
Returning to the technology issue, for example, let's start by changing ourselves first, and then try to involve others by offering alternatives to technological forms of entertainment or distraction. As we speak, my family has just closed out another "smartphone-free day" – an initiative my husband came up with that I was happy to support – which is really making a difference in our family. On a Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves together as a family, staging Little Red Riding Hood about fifteen times! Would it ever have happened if we’d given in to using our smartphones to distract ourselves from boredom?
3. Educating ourselves about kindness
The way we speak is very important in our relationships. At home, we often pay little attention to "form" in our conversations. We don't always use polite, courteous tones. Sometimes we respond poorly or brusquely without giving it any thought. In the long term, this wears on our familial relationships. Let's try to educate ourselves about being kind with our family – those with whom we spend the most time. After all, our family deserves our very best and not our worst, even if it doesn’t always come so naturally.
I should take my own advice when I finish writing this article by printing this out and hanging it in every room as a reminder that my loved ones deserve the best of me. But what if I can’t offer that 100% of the time? What if I respond curtly or become anxious? I apologize and begin again. The important thing is to never stop working on oneself.
4. Brush up on or start using language that shows we care
In order to create a communal environment, it is very important to show care and concern for others, to ask questions that show we are interested in another person's state of mind: "How are you? How was your day? Is there something you're worried about? Is there anything I can help you with? Why are you sad?"
These seem like obvious questions, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life...do we ask one another these things?
It's also important to not be so superficial in our conversations. Don't be afraid to show a deeper side of yourself. After all, the other person may be inclined to do the same.
5. Create your own moments, traditions, and habits!
It seems trivial, but being able to say, "We eat pizza at my house every Sunday," "We have a movie night at my house every Thursday," or "We use a floral tablecloth on Sundays at my house," actually makes us feel part of something that is uniquely ours… something belonging to "just our family." I invite you to use your imagination – to find that something that unites you and makes you glad to be together.
In my house, for example, for the past year we have been having herbal tea every evening before bed. It's a ritual that my husband and I look forward to throughout the day. It also means a moment to us after the kids go to sleep. Don't take the little things for granted… make them happen!
Creating moments and traditions that break up a daily routine and, at the same time, enrich it, will certainly help you to find harmony that might feel a bit distant.
What about you? Do you have any tips for improving communication in your family?