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.
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.