Good communication is key for healthy families

June 21, 2013
sisters talking

URBANA, Ill. - Sometimes the hardest people to talk to are the ones in your own family, said University of Illinois Extension family life educator Cheri Burcham.

“Often we assume that our family members know our feelings and needs so we don’t take the time to express them clearly. The same goes for listening. We take it for granted that we already know what the other person means and we just pretend to listen,” she said.

According to New Mexico State University’s “Family Times” newsletter, good communication indicates that families respect each other’s needs and wants.

Careful family communication is crucial for fostering family resilience, the ability of families to flourish and children to thrive regardless of adversity, said Froma Walsh of the Chicago Center for Family Health.

Resilient families share clear, consistent messages with each other, and the more direct, honest, and specific they are, the better, Walsh said.

The expert encourages open expression of emotions. In doing this, family members build mutual trust, practice empathy, comfort each other, and provide respite at challenging times. She also encourages collaborative problem solving in which families identify problems and engage in creative brainstorming to find solutions as a team.

A lot of family conflict is caused by poor communication, Burcham said.

“It’s important to practice positive communication skills such as speaking carefully and listening to others. Using I-messages and reflective listening can reduce the chances of misunderstanding and hurt,” she said.

“An I-message such as ‘I would feel better if we included everyone in decisions that affect us all’ works much better than ‘You always take over and make decisions for the whole family.’ I-messages express how you feel and don’t put the other person on the defensive,” she noted.

When listening, family members should remember to look, think, and repeat, she advised.

“To prevent misunderstandings, make eye contact, pay attention to what is being said, and observe the other person’s facial expression and body language. Think about what is being said and the potential meanings of that message. Then repeat back what you think that person was saying. They will either confirm that you are correct, or they will take the opportunity to clarify what they were trying to say,” she said.

To find out more about effective communication techniques, contact one of our family life educators at U of I Extension by visiting

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