1. Family communication has 3 main parts: Communicating with yourself, communicating with the brain injury survivor, and communicating with other family members. Each part requires attention and adaptation. All 3 require active listening and constructive ways of expressing yourself.
2. We all have communication skills that serve us well, and other areas that do not work well. Try to be honest about person and family styles that need to be changed now. Be open to professional help to enhance communication. Address one communication issue at a time.
3. Understand that the family will need to learn to speak a common language. The new language will be the one the survivor now uses. Work with speech pathologists and other team members to learn how to communicate with words, body language, gestures and signals. The new language might not seem “natural”, but it will help immensely.
4. Over time, the family needs to come to a shared understanding and perception of why the brain injury happened, who the survivor is now, and who the family is now. A lot of communication focuses on these topics.
5. Try to be patient with one another. Realize that each person moves through emotions and responses at a different pace. Try to be supportive, and encourage each person to build a support network within and outside the family.
6. Make the time to talk to each other about each person’s needs, worries, hopes. Then practice negotiating to divide the responsibilities and give each person some respite time.
7. Support groups can be a valuable resource for meeting role models, observing how others communicate, sharing your strengths, and adapting new skills to your family.
8. You can communicate in many ways besides words: sharing an activity, touch, looking at photographs, laughter. Appreciate them all and develop those abilities.
9. Learn to argue and handle differences constructively. Stick to one subject, listen as each person states his thoughts and feelings, compromise on what needs to be different, and agree on a plan. It’s rarely that neat, but learning to argue well is an important stress reducer.
10. Communication changes along the journey. It helps to realize this, be glad for the times when it is easier, and know when it is time to learn some new communication skills.