Some principles of human communication: These are for any relationship, but during the holidays we can especially apply them to family.
1) He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. James 1:10
If you're like me, you may find yourself thinking in your mind what you want to say while another person is still speaking. With children, especially, we can say no to a request before we've heard it out. Or, if someone is sharing something that makes us feel defensive, we can focus more on defending ourselves than truly understanding what the other person is trying to tell us. Or, we may simply be impatient to have our turn to say something. The key to good communication is to listen until you understand what the other person is communicating. Then and only then, think carefully how to answer.
Teach your family not to interrupt each other. Our family are all outgoing people, and we love to talk and have fun together. When we get going, we often interrupt each other in our excitement. I'm as guilty of this as anyone in the family. At those times, we have to remind ourselves to listen until another person has finished speaking. It's a matter of showing respect and a true concern for the other person. Love is not selfish, which means that love is eager to give the other person a chance to be heard.
2) The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. Proverbs 18:17.
When dealing with a conflict between two people, never draw conclusions after hearing only one side. We all have a tendency to present the facts of an event in a light that supports our case. We may not even be conscious that we are doing this. We may just be seeing a situation through our own eyes. Therefore, an impartial counselor must be able to hear out both sides in order to provide any wise counsel or input.
3) A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. Proverbs 16:28.
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Matthew 18:15
Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. Proverbs 26:20
How many conflicts escalate because too many people talk about it and talk about it? Jesus' instruction is that we go and talk to a person who has hurt us first, in private. There's another verse that states the reverse: if we know someone is upset with us, we are obligated to go and talk with them in private first, too. If you have talked with someone in private and the problem is still unresolved, then and only then should you bring in a third, impartial party to mediate the situation.
If someone tries to use you as a sounding board for a conflict, ask first, "Have you talked to ____ about this?" If they have not talked to the person in question, sweetly direct them to go back to the person that has offended them.
Going to the person who hurt us is a hard thing to do for some reason, and many of us feel better venting to a third person who will be sympathetic to us. Yet, that becomes gossip and does nothing at all to remedy things. We all must be willing to overcome our uncomfortable feelings and go to the person in question -- even if it's someone who intimidates us a little. After all, don't you want people to come to you when they are hurt or offended by something you said or did?
When going to a third party, your motivation should be to help rather than to chew over someone's faults. In I Corinthians, Paul mentions that someone from Chloe's household had written to him about conflicts in the Corinthian church. It's obvious that this person sought Paul's aid because the church was not resolving things well internally.
When children are young, many love to tattle-tale. (Some of us who are grown up can enjoy tattling, too!) Now, children obviously do need to alert adults if a sibling or a friend is doing something dangerous, immoral, or damaging to someone's property. They may lack the ability to distinguish between what does need to come to your attention and what can be settled in other matters. Also, they will not have mature skills in working out conflicts. Be thankful they are communicating with you. Most likely, you will need to help settle a conflict between young children. Patiently, over time, teach them how to resolve conflicts on their own as is age-appropriate. Help them grow into knowing when to bring things to your attention.
If it's obvious that your child delights in pointing out someone else's faults --the true tattle tale --teach the child that love does not rejoice in wrong. Help them to gain attention in more positive ways.
4) Judge not or you too will be judged. Matthew 7:1
Love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Mathew 7:3
When my husband and I were first married, we would go beyond noticing a fault in the other one to taking that fault personally. When we saw an outward action, we jumped to conclusions about the inner motivations. "If she really cared, she wouldn't...." "If he loved me, he would..." We judged the other person's intentions and character instead of dealing with the facts. We focused on "fixing" the other one, rather than on dealing with our own sins and shortcomings. Needless to say, none of this was helpful! God showed us through godly people how to change our patterns of relating to healthier, more godly ones. One of the happiest things we learned was that love always trust and love always hopes.
Relationships between spouses, between parents and children, and between siblings thrive when one person looks to another person's best qualities. In healthy relationships, people do not pretend that problems, sins, or faults don't exist -- either in themselves or in the other person. They do, however, deal with the facts honestly and respectfully, without jumping to conclusions or judging motives. They talk openly, rather than nagging, criticizing, or belittling. They ask questions and allow the other person to talk before making a judgement. They also appreciate the good in the other person. They hope in God's plan for their own life and for the life of the other person. They have a vision for what God wants to work in a particular situation.
Even if a person is struggling and weak, knowing that their spouse or their parent or their sibling believes that they can come through the struggle as a stronger, better person can help someone persevere.
5) And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:13-15.
Nothing kills a relationship like grudges, unforgiveness, and bitterness. Nothing makes it thrive like forgiveness. In fact, this impacts our relationship with God, as well. Jesus tells us that if we want to be forgiven of our sins, we must forgive the sins of others. Sometimes, this requires prayer and working through some emotions. But, our hearts should always be to follow Jesus, who prayed on the cross for those who were crucifying him to be forgiven. What did Jesus do to forgive us? He died a painful death. He bore the consequences of our sins. Forgiveness can be a painful process on our part, in which we must pray and work through our emotions. We must die to defending ourselves or retaliating or giving someone the cold shoulder. Yet, whatever sufferings on our part to forgive is nothing compared to the power of the cross that forgives us.