Nurturing your family relations by encouraging strong communication

Do you have a difficult time connecting with your kids? Is it challenging to communicate with them and understand their fluctuating moods and emotions? Do you and your family members struggle with mutual trust and respect?

Family connections and communication play a vital role in building and maintaining healthy family relations. The strong bonds you develop with your children and spouse are vital because when faced with important life choices, it is the strength of your connections that will help your family members make critical decisions.

Strong, effective communication between parents and kids, as well as between couples and siblings, is the key to remaining close with one another and nurturing harmonious family connections. By teaching effective communication skills to kids at a young age and opening the lines of communication, families can share their feelings and thoughts—and together navigate life’s many ups and downs.


Do pay attention and listen

We ask our kids to listen to us, so shouldn’t we give them the same respect? Instead of giving advice 24/7, try listening. You will learn a lot if you keep your mouth closed and your ears open. It is critical to listen to kids, know how to talk to them and understand them emotionally.

If your family members have something important to share, pay attention and listen intently. Turn off the TV, computer or music, put down your book and take a genuine interest in what your loved ones are saying. Use nonverbal communication to show that you are paying attention by making eye contact and nodding your head. Ask open-ended questions that invite sharing.

This interest will cultivate healthier family relationships. Remember that giving undivided attention and focus for short periods of time is a lot more valuable than spending long periods of time being distracted and distant.

Do get in the car

Many important conversations take place in the car. When kids are strapped in your car with nowhere to go, they will inevitably begin talking to you. And when they have friends in the car, you can eavesdrop and listen on their conversations, learning about who got in trouble at school and who likes whom.

Remember to stay off your cell phone and don’t turn on a DVD in the car. And ask open-ended questions, instead of yes and no questions, to initiate conversation. This will open the lines of communication and set the stage for meaningful discussions.

Do disconnect to connect

These days, family members are over-stimulated by numerous outside sources. But families need private time to relax without interference from the outside world. Consequently, parents must set ground rules for their kids—and for themselves. Because children imitate the bad habits of their parents, it is extremely important for everyone in the household to follow these rules.

Try assigning a digital curfew, such as unplugging all electronics during the dinner hour, or after 8 pm. Try leaving all cell phones in the car while dining out, or set aside Sunday afternoons as a cellphone-free time for the entire family.

Do break out of old patterns

Studies show that children raised in homes with parents who consistently fight, act in an overly anxious manner or display a great deal of negativity, typically grow up feeling anxious, timid or defiant. Additionally, these kids typically repeat the same patterns with their own kids. As a result, it is important to spend time breaking these patterns, so your own children do not have to struggle in the same way.

Are you and your spouse willing to change? Are you prepared to break the negative patterns of using guilt trips, yelling and overreacting that you learned from your own parents? This change is vital because children learn their behaviors from their parents.

Do keep your cool

Have you ever noticed that yelling at your children is a complete waste of energy? When you scream at your kids about their unfinished homework or clothes all over their bedroom floor, they just shut down. And all communication shuts down with them. They know they can never please you, so they stop trying.

Instead of yelling, blaming or lecturing, take a deep breath and keep your cool. Focus on solutions in place of blame. For example, if your kids finish a craft project and leave the materials strewn all over the kitchen table, calmly describe the scene by saying, “I see the paper, glue, glitter and scissors scattered all over the table.” Do not blame your kids for leaving the table a mess, but rather, focus on a solution by respectfully saying, “I expect whoever took these supplies out to put them all away within the next 15 minutes.”

Remember not to lecture. Use fewer words with a calm and respectful tone. The goal is to put an end to the power struggles by keeping your cool, speaking in a respectful manner and using effective communication skills with your children.


Do not forget to focus on couple time

When children enter into a family, they tend to become the center of attention. But when a family reorganizes itself around the needs of a child, a communication gap begins to form among the parents. As this happens, the roles of husband and wife slowly evolve into the roles of mother and father, and the original connection between man and wife begins to erode. Many spouses look at one another and wonder what happened to the love and commitment they once shared.

To battle this communication gap, it is essential to preserve your time together as a couple. Get a steady babysitter for a weekly adult night out—and do not let anything get in the way of this time together. Or put the kids to bed early one night a week, order in dinner, watch a movie, read to each other, play cards, listen to music, dance or just talk.

Make a rule that once the kids are in bed, there will be no housework or office work. Unplug so that there are no distractions and nothing to interfere with intimacy, communication and connection.

Do not underestimate the importance of sharing a family meal

Sharing a meal together is an important way to sit down together. In addition to talking about each family member’s day, it is a great way to come together and share what is on your kids’ minds and what is going on in their lives.

Talking about little things—such as what costume your 6-year-old daughter wants to wear on Halloween and the history test your 13-year-old son is studying for—is fine as this paves the way for more serious conversations down the road.

The important thing is making quality time that each family member can depend on. This will teach good communication skills and show your children that you value this special time together.

Do not hide your mistakes

Mistakes are a very important life lesson and educational tool for everybody. Children need to learn from their mistakes, so do not get mad at them when they make one. Instead, show your kids that you understand and care enough to help them through the mistake.

When responding to the mistakes of your kids, it can be helpful to talk to other parents and learn about their solutions. Hearing from other parents who have struggled with the same issues can be eye opening and inspiring.

At the same time, parents should not hide their own mistakes from kids because it is much easier for children to relate to an imperfect parent than a perfect one. Children tend to keep their troubles to themselves if they are worried about disappointing parents who they consider to be perfect. As a result, be authentic and do not hide your imperfections. It is important for kids to see that you, too, are human.

Do not overlook the need to set reasonable rules together

Setting rules together requires effective communication. When your 15-year-old daughter tells you she wants to start dating, sit down and talk about it together. When your 7-year-old son requests permission to ride his bike alone to school, ask him questions and figure out what makes sense.

The key is to be reasonable, thoughtful and understanding. Explain your own fears, experiences and ideas. And listen to your children. If you set reasonable rules together, they will be more likely to abide by these rules.

Do not lose sight of your children’s feelings

Try to understand the feelings that your kids are conveying. Give them an opportunity to share how they feel. Remember that while you do not have to agree with their feelings, you must accept them.

Show your kids you understand how they feel by using “feeling” words in response to their stories. For example, when your daughter shares an emotional account of her hurt feelings, respond with, “It sounds like you felt upset and disappointed when you overheard Sara talking about her sleepover with Amy.” If you are tempted to lecture or give advice, don’t. Just listen to your child’s feelings and emotions without lecturing.

Jumping cartoon

Due to our fast-paced lives, effective communication is essential to maintaining strong family connections. By encouraging each other to communicate freely with love and respect, family members will feel comfortable sharing feelings, thoughts and emotions. This, in turn, will improve family communications, as well as family relations. And will play an important role in building and nurturing a family.

More expert advice about Improving Family Communication

Photo Credits: A family walking by Lee Haywood via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Lucie P. Lawrence, PhDFamily Communication and Disability Specialist

Lucie Lawrence has a Ph.D. in human communication studies, with a concentration in family communication, disability and interpersonal relationships, from the University of Denver. Additionally, she holds a master's degree in journalism from the ...

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