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How well do you and your family communicate?

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

Communication affects all that goes on between people. It is much more than just talking; it is what we say, how we say it, and what we don’t say. Communication includes our facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. It is two-directional and involves paying attention to what others are thinking, feeling, and saying.

According to research, 70 percent of young people say they have family support. However, only 30 percent felt they have positive family communication. It is believed that this represents the difference between how families feel toward one another and how well they communicate. Additionally, research finds that positive family communication is more common among younger kids than older teenagers; 47 percent of sixth graders report positive family communication, but only 22 percent of high school seniors do.

Although adults may not have trouble speaking with their children when it involves giving directions or explaining things, they may have difficulty communicating when difficult topics or emotions are involved.

Here are some strategies for strengthening family communication:

  1. Use door openers: Door openers are invitations to say more, to share ideas and feelings. They let the child know you are listening and interested, that her ideas are important and that you respect what she is saying. Examples of door openers include: “I see”, “How about that”, “Really?”, “Tell me more”, “Say that again. I want to be sure I understood you.”
  2. Use a tone of voice that encourages listening, and keep it pleasant.
  3. Be a good listener. Even though it seems like listening to someone else talk is easy, effective listening actually requires skill and practice. In active listening there is no judgment; the listener tries to understand the speaker’s point of view. Good listeners:
  • give undivided attention
  • don’t pretend to listen
  • withhold advice unless asked to give it
  • do not interrupt
  • summarize the speaker’s statement to check for understanding
  • ask questions to clarify

Avoid these negative styles of communication:

  • Criticism – “You are so inconsiderate.”
  • Ordering – “Stop complaining!”
  • Warning – “If you do that, you’ll be sorry.”
  • Preaching – “You shouldn’t act like that.”
  • Advising – “Just wait a couple of years before deciding.”
  • Lecturing – “If you do this now, you won’t grow up to be a responsible adult.”
  • Agreeing, just to keep the peace – “I think you’re right.”
  • Ridiculing – “OK, little baby.”

For additional information about Positive Family Communication, click on the links below.

Family Communication Starts Early – Michigan State University Extension

Positive Family Communication – Montana State University Extension

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 330 or at kkr5@cornell.edu.

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