Poor Family Communication

The information provided here is intended to educate on what poor family communication looks like, what its effects are, and what can be done about it.

Every family is different and has a different way of communicating. What exactly is communication to begin with? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the process of transmitting information about ideas, attitudes, emotions or behavior.” Communication happens not only with words, but also with body language and behaviors. There is a famous quote which says, “You cannot, not communicate.” Everything we do and say is a way to communicate with someone else.

Poor communication can come in many different forms. Here are some examples of communication, which are often ineffective or harmful to families:

  • Yelling
  • Silent-treatment or never talking
  • Using terms like “always” or “never”
  • Blaming
  • Swearing, name-calling, or other forms of abusive speech
  • Passive-aggressive statements or actions (passive-aggressive refers to words or actions, which are angry, yet the anger is denied by the person saying or doing them)
  • Keeping and hiding family secrets
  • Labeling a person as bad rather than saying the behavior is wrong
  • Using ultimatums or threats
  • Hurting, abusing or harming another person

What are the effects on families who chronically use poor communication?

  • Research shows families with poor communication are less likely to identify as being close to one another (Samek, D. & Rueter, M., 2011).
  • Additionally, family communication plays a role in the positive development of children, teenagers, and young adults.
  • Research also shows behavioral problems and at-risk behaviors are less likely to occur when families identify as having positive communication, and more likely to occur then they have negative communication. In fact, negative family communication is even more likely to lead to depression or anxiety in young people (Xiao, Z., Li, X. & Stanton, B., 2011).

To summarize: Families, teenagers, and relationships are better off when families use positive communication.

What are some suggestions for improving family communication?

  • Recognize communication often reflects relationships. Only using communication tools while neglecting relationships is not likely to create a positive change in a family.
  • Begin making some differences within yourself. Begin a conversation with a family member in a safe way. Or decide not to yell but instead practice using a calm voice.
  • Consider a family conversation about how communication is practiced within the family. Basically, talk about how you talk.
  • Research shows positive communication within families depends upon “openness and clarity” (Xiao, Z., Li, X. & Stanton, B., 2011). Practice being clear and direct while being respectful.
  • Create new rituals and traditions for your family. Family dinners, regular parent-child outings, or even a family vacation can be times for families to practice improved communication.
  • Family counseling may be another helpful option. Family therapists work with families to reach their goals and improve communication.


Samek, D. R., & Rueter, M. A. (2011). Associations between family communication patterns, sibling closeness, and adoptive status. Journal Of Marriage And Family, 73(5), 1015-1031.
Xiao, Z., Li, X., & Stanton, B. (2011). Perceptions of parent-adolescent communication within families: It is a matter of perspective. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 16(1), 53-65.