How to foster positive communication in your family

My ideas are derived from experiences as a husband and a father, as a bishop for the past three years and from my psychiatry practice:

Live a Christ-centered personal life. People easily become negative in their attitudes and communications when they feel bad about themselves. Living a life based on the examples given us by the Savior helps us feel good about ourselves. We then become more positive in our attitudes and communications with others.- Maintain a positive relationship with your spouse. The marital relationship is the foundation from which other family relationships grow.

Actively seek opportunities to positively acknowledge the actions of others in a meaningful way. Many people "expect" good behavior and only comment upon unsatisfactory behaviors. Good behaviors are praiseworthy, even if they are something as mundane as doing an expected chore well or looking nice. Sometimes we have to actively look for something to be positive about, but it is well worth the effort.

Acknowledge negative behaviors as positively as possible. It helps to remember that we are partners with Jesus Christ, and we have been given the assignment of helping to teach our Heavenly Father's children and assist them in returning unto Him.

Strive to keep negative influences out of the home. Influences that are harmful to the Spirit should be actively avoided. These include unwholesome movies, music or activities. In addition, we found in our family that teasing and other forms of demeaning humor were harmful to the sweet spirit that we wanted in our family, so we agreed to avoid those activities.

Instill a sense of pride in the family name. This helps foster a sense of being a part of a cohesive "team" that each member has responsibility toward.

Be patient. I have learned that I am less patient and more negative when I am tired or overworked. In those situations, I employ the old adage, "Think twice and speak once." This helps me to take a step back and reassess the situation. - Michael J. McClure, Evans, Ga.

What we did:

Show love, concern

I have found that when members of our family feel that we truly want to understand them, they are more willing to talk. I realized one day after many frustrating moments with my daughter that she felt I wasn't willing to listen to her point of view. I honestly felt she wasn't willing to listen to my point of view either. One day after much prayer I had an impression to stop what I was doing and just hug her and tell her that I loved her and I was ready to hear what she had to say and not be so quick to judge or offer parental advice. I found that showing love consistently opens the door for communication. - Kathy Tawzer, Cornelius, Ore.

Show personal interest

Our grade-school-age son had a stammering problem that we made worse by finishing his sentences and comments for him. A counselor told us to patiently let him finish his comments without anyone interrupting him and show personal interest in what he said through eye contact, facial expression and verbal feedback. This is so true of what all children need. - Carolyn Winter, Logan, Utah

Seek understanding

The word communication is used so much that we sometimes forget just what it means. Communication means connecting with another soul - not just us telling them, but also coming together in understanding. This does not mean that we always agree with another person. It means that we understand what he or she is asking of us.

If I ask my child to clean up his/her room, his/her definition of clean may be entirely different from mine. If I ask my husband to "take care of the stew" while I run to the grocery store, he may have the same problem. He either may not understand what I mean by "take care of," or he may be engaged in something that occupies his attention.

The following has been very helpful to our family in avoiding misunderstanding:

Make eye contact.

Declare understanding of the situation. You can then correct any misunderstanding before it becomes a problem. - S. L. Owens, Old Hickory, Tenn.

Encourage discussion

My wife has endeavored to make the dinner table a place for friendly communication and sharing in the evening. We have striven to encourage discussion of the day's activities and have consciously sought to diminish/discourage any competitiveness or one-up-manship between the family. This can be a great time to help others to listen to their siblings and perhaps see others' points of view.

The technique of seeking an input from each family member at the dinner table and at family home evening can be very positive. I believe it encourages individual self-esteem, group learning and stimulates sensing the strengths and uniqueness of brothers and sisters. - R. Dennis Bates, Gilbert, Ariz.

Listen with caring heart

Listen with a caring heart and you open the communication lines with your family. When you listen with a caring heart, you block sarcasm or a know-it-all attitude. Listening is truly the greatest, most powerful form of communication. I also suggest:

Speak kindly and with love.

Be understanding, don't preach. Ask questions.

Show confidence. - Leora Potter, Cincinnati, Ohio

Treat children with dignity

Treat your children with dignity and respect. It is amazing that when we treat them this way, they respond in like manner.

Treat your children as you would your friends or others you respect. If we stop to think how we would want them to treat us, then we should be the example to them and treat them the same way.

Express your love, appreciation, respect for your children to others while the children are present. This way they hear and are affirmed by this.

Remember, if we expect Heavenly Father to be patient with us, we must, likewise, be patient with our children. That is the least we can do. - Glenna Wilson, Lehi, Utah

`Warm fuzzies'

In our family, we started doing what we call "warm fuzzies." We all sit in a circle and have a ball that is passed around the circle from one to another. The person who has the ball gently throws it to another family member. The family member who receives it is then required to say something nice about the person who threw the ball. This does a lot to change the mood and cause us all to focus in on the positive. - Georgia N. Gerritsen, Foster City, Calif.

How to checklist:

1 Be Christ-centered in the home; live golden rule.

2 Be respectful of each other; express love, be patient

3 Listen; acknowledge other's feelings, point of view.

4 Take opportunities to be together; build each other up.


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March 15 "How to overcome obstacles to serving a mission as a retired couple."

March 22 "How to prepare spiritually and emotionally for death of loved one."

March 29 "How to place people above tasks."

April 5 "How to help children benefit from general conference."

April 19 "How to break the habit of being late."

April 26 "How to organize your finances and the paying of bills."

Also interested in letters on these topics: "How to be more patient with your children," "How to unleash the personal impact of scripture study in your life."

Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2121 or use internet E-mail: Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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