Family Communication

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"Dad, I need to talk to you. It's important."

'Oh no, not now!' is the thought that runs through Pierre's mind as he turns to face his 13-year-old son, Martin. It's late on Saturday morning and Pierre is just on his way to take the car in for a much-needed tune-up.

What Pierre wants to tell Martin is that a conversation will have to wait. Dad's busy. However, what he actually says is: "Sure, son. Let's go into the den where it's comfortable and quiet."

As he accompanies his son, Pierre knows that he has made the right decision. Good family communication, the father understands, is crucial to the well being of each individual in the family group and to the family as a whole.

One of the most effective means of establishing good communication in a family is to always display a willingness to listen. Being attentive and not interrupting when a spouse or child talks about his or her thoughts, ideas and feelings tells the person that what is being said is of value and interest to you. Children, particularly, develop a sense of self worth and trust when a parent takes the time to pay attention to their words.

There are some other practical, common sense ways to establish open and effective family communication. For instance, if you are angry with your teenager, cool down before confronting her. You may say something you'll regret. Remember, too, that good communication involves treating each member of the family with the consideration and respect. It's also a good idea to banish useless criticism, sarcasm and platitudes from the family dialogue.

For over a year now, Chuck and Patsy Green, along with their two teenagers, Evan and Jane, have been holding regular Sunday evening family meetings. At first, Evan and Jane were reluctant attendees, believing that the meetings, which they decreed to be "dumb," would be nothing more than parent-led forums in which they, the kids, would be lectured at or otherwise told what to do.

However, it didn't take long for the teens to discover that family meetings can actually be both useful and fun. Over the past 12 months, the members of the Green family have used the weekly gathering to discuss everything from logistics like who is going to drive whom to basketball and swimming practice to where to spend the annual summer vacation. They have also used the meetings, as a means for dealing with family emergencies such as should Patsy's mother, who had fallen down the stairs and broken her leg, be invited to live with the family. (The invitation was extended but kindly rejected.)

As most families who establish a regular meeting program discover, a formal communication structure not only helps families function more smoothly, it is also an effective method for solving problems, strengthening communication and building family unity and cooperation.

The founding principle of every effective family meeting program is that everyone, even children as young as four or five, has a role to play and something to contribute.

For democracy to prevail, all family members including children who are old and capable enough should take turns leading individual meetings.

The family meeting leader will want to ensure that everyone has time and opportunity to express their views. As well, the leader will make sure that everyone is treated with respect and courtesy. With such ground rules, as Evan and Jane discovered, a strong and meaningful family partnership can evolve.
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