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There’s really no such thing as a “normal family, and no family is perfect. Far from it. All families have flaws, dysfunctions, frustrations, interesting characters, and constantly changing circumstances. Yet families endure, grow, and change. They survive the hardships and are able to look back on shared experiences of pain, joy, laughter, and amazement.

Families grow together – each member learning personal lessons on their own while sharing in a lifetime journey together. As family members struggle, gain personal breakthroughs, enter new seasons of life, or undertake new adventures, they can break apart and isolate, or they can contribute knowledge and gain new insights from one another.

These FIVE Principles will help you elevate and activate better communication within your family.


Make Communication the Most Important Thing.

While this may seem obvious, it isn’t. Life demands attention, and all family members are working on their own “stuff” – school, work, sports, hobbies, or passions. There’s limited time for everything, and there will always be “urgencies” you don’t expect.

When you value communication first, you set a shared expectation that we are not at our best unless our family’s communication channels are open and clear. Where there is conflict, we strive to bring healing. Where there’s confusion, we try to clarify. We are patient with each other.

Over the course of our lifetimes, we are going to continue to get better at communication, because it matters. How else could we truly understand, appreciate, and learn from one another? Lead by example, in the way you live, and in the way you engage in family communication.


Everyone Counts and Everyone’s Different.

This principle is about valuing the uniqueness of everyone involved. Parents, don’t view your children’s opinions as “less than” your own. Their perspective is very real and valid. It’s what they are experiencing now.

First, seek to understand their reality as deeply as possible. Young children are not “partial human beings.” They are complete. Their thoughts and perspectives are incredibly valuable, as they are currently plugged into a perspective you are not. Pay attention. Listen. Learn.

And children, just because your parents are older, doesn’t mean they don’t “get it.” They’ve probably done it! Or at least their version of whatever “it” may be. Even though your parents look and act differently, there is a sizeable benefit to being on the planet awhile.

You get to do a lot and learn things. You make a lot of mistakes, and some of the lessons are really painful, or even devastating. Your parents want to protect you from making the mistakes they did so that you can avoid them and make different, better mistakes of your own.

This means, when it comes to talking, you take turns, listen closely, ask questions, and remain calm, even if others don’t. Strive to empathize – to see things from someone else’s point of view.


Reward Honesty.

The most important part of clear communication is honesty. Be respectful, and be truthful. When someone tells you something difficult, don’t criticize or reprimand. When they share an opinion that may be hard to hear, resist the reflex to get defensive.

First, validate and extend appreciation for their honesty. Family issues fester if they’re not addressed, and they only get worse over time. Avoiding the inevitable truth leads to resentments and almost always makes small divides much larger.

Over time, even simple issues can become enormous obstacles to connection because they were not honestly addressed at an earlier moment. Share the truth about what happened, and also about what you love, fear, and desire.

Parents, tell your kids that you love them, and why they are so special. When you are consistently committed to honesty, they will believe you and believe more in themselves.


Devices Down, Attention Up.

It’s fun to share stuff on your phones and computers with one another. But when it comes to meaningful communication, please set your devices down.

When you prioritize “family over phones” you demonstrate that even in a world of constant distractions and never-ending demands, the other person is more important than the noise of life. You effectively say, “It means a lot to me that we have time together to discuss something, or just share an experience together.”

Communicating doesn’t always involve deep, meaningful discussions. More often, it means creating the space in your relationship to talk about what you perceive, think, and appreciate. So put the phones down and “plug in” to a deeper connection.


Own Your Mistakes.

This is another area where, whether you are the parent, child, or sibling, you can and should lead by example. When you lose your temper or do something inappropriate, address it as soon as possible. Depending upon the circumstances, you may need to take some time to settle your emotions. But make it an urgent priority to
acknowledge and apologize.

With a calm tone and simple approach, simply state you were wrong. Say you’re sorry. Share what you learned from it and how you’ll try to do better in the future. When others wrong you, give them the benefit of the doubt, realizing that all of us will make mistakes sometimes. Extend forgiveness, even before it’s asked for, or earned.

When you make communication your primary goal as a family, or as a close group of friends, you set the expectation that you can and will work through whatever comes your way… or whatever gets in your way.

You will talk through it and figuring it out, together. Remember with parents, children, and siblings, these are the relationships that last a lifetime and require you to learn, grow, and communicate. These relationships may test you, and they also help define you and refine your essential communication skills.

The Skills of Communication

No one is born an excellent communicator. You must learn the skills and put in the practice. On which of these skills do you need the most work?


  • Expressing Yourself – When you speak, choose your words with care and specificity. Seek to inform and express your view, without inflaming or insulting others. Speak clearly and concisely. The more efficiently you can make your point or convey your experience, the stronger the impression.
  • Active Listening – When others are speaking it can be easy to lose focus, drift away, or begin formulating the next thing you want to say. Instead, go deeper into your listening. Rather than just hearing the words or understanding the idea, ask yourself, “what is the essence of what they’re trying to say to me? Why is this meaningful to them?”
  • Asking Questions – Instead of just taking turns telling each other what you think, mix it up by asking clarifying questions to learn more precisely what they mean, or to get details you’re curious about learning. This coveys your interest and validates the other person. Then, when it’s your turn to talk, you’ll find they naturally reciprocate with greater attention and curiosity.
  • Presence – Of course, each of these skills requires you to be “in the moment” with the person you’re speaking with. The key to developing greater presence is to notice when you are NOT present, and, instead of criticizing yourself, simply bring your focus back to the moment. With practice, this will become more natural and instinctive.
  • Empathy – By making communication important, working on these skills, and following these principles, you’ll begin to develop an even more powerful skill of empathizing – thinking from the perspective of other people. When you can “default” to another’s perspective, you’ll become a very powerful communicator. This skill enables you to connect quickly and more deeply with people, saving time and building trust by demonstrating your understanding and genuine concern.