“What does family mean to me? Well, everything. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we’re perfect.”

“We don’t always know how to get along or get things right, but we all try our best to love one another and be there for each other.”

“I don’t know what I would do without them. It’s hard sometimes to make our relationships work, but in the end, it’s all worth it!”

“It’s nice to know that there are several different resources available in our community that can assist us in supporting our family.”

Being part of a family is a unique experience that brings great joy and fulfillment into our lives. It takes intentional effort to keep our relationships positive because even the most loving and happiest of families face difficult times. Healthy Relationships Initiative is here to help families in our community build happy, healthy, and safe relationships. Our goal is to meet families where they are and offer resources and information to help take the next step in strengthening their relationships. So, whether your family is happy overall, but with a few challenging areas, or if your family is feeling a bit unstable right now, or even if you’ve started feeling that you’ve lost hope for your family, we’ve designed the resources in this toolkit to help you reflect on your relationships, connect with your family through deeper conversations, and build up tools to strengthen your relationships.

 

Reflect: Reflection Activities

Being in touch with your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is an important key to happy, healthy, and safe families. Frequent self-examination allows you to stay in tune with yourself and gain awareness of how you interact with family members. These observations can help you identify potential strengths and weaknesses in your relationships. Furthermore, this knowledge is important because ultimately you are the only person whose emotions, thoughts, and behaviors you can control in a relationship. So, it’s important to learn as much as you can about yourself so you can do your own personal best to enhance your relationships. The Reflection Activities in this section of the Healthy Relationships Initiative Toolkit for Families of Young Children are designed to help you intentionally think through your views and attitudes that impact your relationships with your family members.

 

Connect: Conversation Starters

It can be nerve-racking just thinking about having deep conversations with family members, especially if you don’t quite know how to get those conversations started. For that reason, this Toolkit includes an extensive list of Conversation Starters to begin meaningful conversations with your family members. These Conversation Starters can be used in many different ways to fit a pace that works for you. For example, you could address one issue at a time in a casual manner, or you could spend a long period of time discussing many of them. You could also consider completing some of the Reflection Activities in this Toolkit, to help guide your talking points. Another idea is to follow up every response with an open-ended question like “What else do you think about that?” This helps to keep the conversation going, and it also provides an opportunity for others to explain their responses.

Before you begin using these Conversation Starters, consider the following suggestions:

  • Set aside time so that conversations don’t feel rushed. It’s okay to only get through one Conversation Starter at a time! Your goal is to learn more about each other, not check off a list of questions as quickly as possible. Take your time, and be sure to minimize distractions during that time so you can focus on the conversation and your family member(s).
  • Try to have your conversations in places that are comfortable for everyone. Some family members may feel more comfortable talking alone or in private, whereas other members may feel more comfortable talking in public places. Try to consider everyone’s preferences and think outside the box. You don’t even have to be sitting to talk–you could take a walk together or even be relaxing side by side at the beach. The more everyone feels comfortable, wherever you are, the easier it will be to focus on the conversation and each other.
  • Commit to really listening to everyone. Once they’ve shared their thoughts on the Conversation Starter, try to reflect back to them what you heard, such as by saying, “What I just heard you say is ______.” If you didn’t catch everything the first time, ask them to say more for clarification.
  • Be open to disagreements. Everyone does not have to agree 100% of the time about everything in order to have healthy relationships. In fact, differences can help keep relationships interesting! If a family member says something that you don’t agree with, try to learn more about why they think the way they do.
  • Use your Conversation Starters as an opportunity for self-reflection. Some of the conversations may address topics that you’ve never thought much about before, so don’t be surprised if your views on the subject change while you’re talking about them!
  • If you find it difficult to engage in positive conversations with family members, and especially if this is a pattern over time, it may be a sign that you could benefit from counseling, including individual and/or family counseling. To learn more about seeking counseling, please read our Families of Young Children Toolkit Tip Sheet #9: Finding a Family Counselor.
  • Finally, enter into deeper conversations with family members with a commitment to kindness and respect. Everyone deserves to feel heard and understood. Having deeper conversations can feel strange at first. But, over time, if you engage in these conversations with kindness and respect, you’ll see how they can help to propel your relationships to a deeper, more meaningful connection with one another!

Some of the questions in the Conversation Starters below are geared toward conversations with your children, while others are more appropriate for discussion with your partner or other adults who are part of the parenting/caregiving responsibilities in your family. Feel free to adapt any of the questions to make them better fit your own family situation and the person or people you’re talking with!

 

Build: Tip Sheets for Strengthening Your Relationships

Your family is one of a kind, and so is every member in it, so what works for one family member in maintaining a strong relationship, may not work for another. One of the keys to healthy, happy, and safe relationships is trying different things to figure out what works best for every member of your family. In this section, we offer some basic tips to help you build stronger relationships with your family members. These Tip Sheets focus on core relationship skills that apply to a broad range of relationship concerns. If you find that you need individualized help in applying these tips to your relationships, or if you are experiencing problems in your relationships that don’t seem to improve when you apply these tips, please read Tip Sheet #9: Finding a Family Counselor.

Note: This Toolkit was developed by Michelle Vann Horton.