No family escapes periodic bickering binges, especially during the transition to summer vacation, when siblings who have spent much of their days apart now find themselves in the same house all day long. But with focus, summertime can offer an opportunity to build on positive family communication as well.
Search Institute has identified Positive Family Communication as one of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.
We do quite a bit of family travel, and a byproduct of this for us has been siblings with a pretty strong relationship. It isn’t without effort, though, because communication can go downhill pretty quickly on a long roadtrip in tight quarters. Whether or not your family time includes travel, though, some basic tips might help you strengthen the ties that bind your kids this summer.
Set firm guidelines – I expect that our kids use respect even when they argue, and I enforce that expectation. I understand they won’t always see eye to eye, but they know I want them to work things out in a way that they can still have a relationship.
Include kids in the family decisions – Whether they are fun or serious decisions, kids who are included in family discussions about issues and choices are more likely to engage in the family’s activities and decisions.
Carve out exclusive family time – We move to the cabin in the summer, which makes this pretty easy. The logistical difficulty of seeing peers every day forces the members of our family to know each other very well. But no matter where you live, there can be special times set aside for kids and parents to be fully engaged with each other – whether it’s dinnertime, Sunday worship, days at the park or game nights.
Arrange for time apart – Just like time together is important, so is time apart. Whether this time includes regular playdates with a friend, hanging out at the park with peers, or curling up with a good book, kids need to have time to be something other than a sibling, son, or daughter. Extended opportunities for this (a weekend away or Canada fishing trip with Dad) will often rejuvenate tired relationships upon return.
Limit electronics – Since the advent of all-things electronic, it seems our society as a whole has disconnected in some ways, while connecting in others. It can help us as parents to connect with our kids by friending them on Facebook, and playing Wii together may quell sibling squabbling for a bit, but limiting use of Playstation, Ipods, instant messaging, Facebook and texting is absolutely essential.
Explain your goal – I’m very upfront with my kids about how important it is to me that we all have strong relationships with each other, so when I outline my expectations or invite a discussion about these points, I explain my goal in doing so. Kids want strong relationships too – they just don’t always know how to go about having them.
What is your recipe for strong and positive family communication?
Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.
Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.