We believe any family can successfully experience family dialogue by using the suggested helps described here. If the couple has a positive attitude toward family dialogue, it will likely be a very rewarding experience.
From the experience of families all over the country, we’ve discovered that once a week is most worthwhile. It is not law, however. Each family has its own wants and needs. Dialoguing more frequently than once a week, though, can be burdensome to some families. We know of a family that dialogued every day while they were on a camping vacation. But generally, more frequently than once a week can become a chore and destructive to family relationships.
Dialoguing with the family less than once a week usually does not build trust. Family members lose touch with each other between times and any benefits that have been gained in the previous family dialogues can be lost.
The W-E-D-S of Family Dialogue W = Write:
- Some families will find it advantageous to write just before dialoguing, others will be more successful if each family member writes at a time most convenient for him/her.
- Advantages to writing just before dialoguing: It is part of the whole pattern (family assembles, prays, sets buzzer for ten minutes, writes, and begins the dialogue.) Another plus is that the feelings are most alive when they have just been written.
- Disadvantages to writing just before dialoguing: It can be too structured for some families. Also, some members of the family may choose to write when the spirit moves him/her at another time.
- The love letter is most commonly thought to be a concept that develops within children as time passes, as they become aware their parents are writing in the form of a love letter. Forcing children to use the love letter sometimes can be a disadvantage because it may cause more discord than if the children are given the freedom to write in whatever form they wish. Writing or drawing in some way is a must, though, if family dialogue is to be a success.
- Children who are too young to write may draw pictures or dictate their letters to another member of the family. During the reading, the words could either be whispered in the child’s ear and then repeated out loud, or another member of the family could read it for the child.
6. Feelings in the love letter: Not necessarily sticking to feelings when writing in the family seems to be an advantage. Unlike couple dialogue, where we write only feelings in our letters, the family letters may contain thoughts. It should be carefully explained what feelings are and their importance as an inner part of us. We could encourage them to write their feelings down and even provide them a list of feeling words. We could identify when they have stated a feeling, and when they have given an opinion or belief. It’s important to remember that family dialogue does not equate to couple dialogue.
E = Exchange:
- A family may choose not to exchange letters. In this case, each member of the family reads his or her own letter aloud.
- Another option is for everyone to pass books to be read silently by each other.
- Allow each family member to have a choice of reading his/her notebook or passing it.
- One member of the family may read all of the letters. Please try different methods to see what works best.
- Non-verbal communication is a means to develop openness in family dialogue. Exchanging with a kiss or a hug may be good.
D = Dialogue:
There are many ways to do this:
- The sharing may be spontaneous or go around the room.
- Decide that everyone has to share. The obvious disadvantage is that there may be someone that will not share. This can cause unnecessary family conflict.
- There may or may not be comments allowed after each person shares. It may be better for some families to wait until everyone has finished sharing. It must be made clear that family dialogue time is a very special time in the family to focus on each other’s unique goodness and lovability, and to try to communicate more fully and deeply with one another. We all need to understand that this special time is not for picking apart each other’s letters, comments, or personalities. Couples should make every effort to explain garbage dumping to the children before they begin the family dialogue (i.e. Don’t blame someone or something for the way you feel. Avoid the words “make me feel”). We must be gentle and comment that we should focus on the good and positive.
- Non-verbal communication is important in the dialogue, too. Holding hands, eye contact, facial expressions, and body language are all part of the way we communicate.
S = Select:
There are many ways to do this. Try them to discover what is right for your family:
- Select the question from the family’s activities. (HDIFA us on a picnic?)
- Select the question from the family’s experiences. (HDIFA us on Christmas?)
- Select the question from the family’s moods. (HDIFA us as a family when we all feel edgy or resentful with each other?)
- The question may come out of the last week’s dialogue.
- The question may come from scripture. We can use the Sunday scripture, or a line or two from it. All members of the family might want a turn at choosing the scripture passage to use, as well as the question.
- Selecting the next family dialogue question may vary from time to time. The question may be selected right after a family dialogue, or not until the family is ready to dialogue again. If the question is chosen before hand, it may be put on the refrigerator or bulletin board. Experiment to see what works best for you.
The 90-Day Guarantee
Try family dialogue for 90 days once a week for 90 days (12-13 dialogues). If you do this, your family relationship will be improved. After 90 days, if you are not satisfied that improvement has occurred, you can go back to your old patterns of interacting.
Questions to help couples prepare for Family Dialogue:
- What do I/we want to gain from family dialogue?
- Do I/we want to change (control, manipulate) our children?
- Is my/our goal deepening family relationships or problem solving?
- How do I/we apply God’s plan to our family?
- How does family dialogue fit into God’s plan for our family?
- What am I/are we willing to sacrifice for the success of our family dialogues?
Questions For Family Dialogue
What are my feelings?
= What are my feelings about? How do I feel about?
HDIFAT = How do I feel about that? HDIFAMA = How do I feel about my answer?
- What was my most exciting feeling today? DFILD.
- What was the most meaningful experience that I had today? HDIFAT?
- If Jesus came to our house for a 24 hour visit, how would I feel about that? DFILD.
- HDIFA being unforgiving?
- HDIF when I have not received forgiveness?
- HDIFA the love I bring to our family?
- HDIFA being part of this family?
- HDIF when someone in our family helps me?
- HDIF when a friend helps me?
- HDIF when I receive a compliment from someone in our family?
- HDIF when I receive a compliment from someone outside our family?
- What is the meaning of Christmas to me? HDIFAT?
- What is the meaning of Lent to me? HDIF A T?
- What is the meaning of Easter to me? HDIF A T?
- What is the meaning of Thanksgiving to me? HDIF A T?
- What is the meaning of my birthday to me? HDIF A T?
- What is the meaning of Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary to me? HDIFAT?
- WAMF as a new school year begins?
- WAMFA attending church on Sunday?
- What is my best quality? HDIF A T?
- What do I like best about our family? HDIF A T?
- WAMFA Grandma coming to live with us (or any decision that had been made in the family)?
- WAMFA the first five years of my life?
- WAMF when I’m asked to cut back, or to do without?
- WAMFA family dialogue?
- WAMF when Jesus says to us, “Unless you become as little children you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven?”
- What are the things I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving? HDIFAT?
- What is the most important thing that has happened to me this week? HDIFAT?
- WAMFA our family as it is right now?
- WAMFA Christmas this year?
- WAMFA (child’s name) becoming more independent? WAMF about me (the child) becoming more independent?
- When do I feel closest to all of you and WAMF?
- Our goal is family unity. What does it mean to me? How are we doing? HDIFAT?
- What are a few things I like to do with our family and HDIFAMA?
- WAMFA Lent this year?
- WAMFA us/you (parents) being out several nights a week?
- WAMFA the privacy of my room?
- What do I hope for next summer? How does that affect our family and HDIFAT?
- What do I want most out of life and HDIF A T?
- What has been my most painful experience in this family this past week and HDIFAT?
- What do I like to do best without the family and HDIFAT?
- WAMFA Easter this year?
- WAMFA sharing our family dialogue?
- What do I like most about our family life? HDIF A T?
- What do I dislike about our family life? HDIF A T?
- How do I feel when our parents show their love for each other in front of us? (Husband and wife: How do I feel when we are loving in our children’s presence?)
- How do I feel when we pray together as a family at meal time?
- How do I feel when we go to church together?
- How do I feel when we are all having dinner together?
- What do I think (family member’s name) adds most to our family life? HDIFAT?
- What is the possession I have that I like best? HDIF A T?