I am someone who believes in methods that Virginia Satir and John Gottman propose, in that if families cannot talk about surface topics calmly they cannot talk about deep desires and hopes.
Gottman has a questionnaire that is often found in his books or as a deck of cards, called the love map. Couples ask each other basic questions about favourite trees, food, ice cream, and moments. This is sometimes done in with a counsellor and they observe whether or not the couple can communicate at this level. If they cannot, interventions are done to get the couple to communicate on that level before going deeper. If couples can talk about surface topics, they are more likely to be able to go deeper and discuss hopes, wishes, and desires.
However, the love map, while effective, may not be family friendly. Satir developed something called a thermometer reading of the room. In which there are five levels of family communication depth which can help determine how a family is functioning. But better yet, this thermometer can be used to help families get to the core and discuss.
These levels on the thermometer are:
Appreciations or Excitements. This is a time when a family member can share what they are excited about, who or what they appreciate, or who they want to thank.
Worries, Concerns or Puzzles. Families can wonder together about certain puzzles that are occurring within their family system, or concerns that they are seeing in an individual or a trend.
Complaints and Possible Solutions. This level is tricky, as all members in a family have something to complain about. But this section is complaints and possible solutions, which can be tied to the worries, concerns or puzzles. At this level I prefer to structure the sharing with ‘I don’t like…. And I would lie to change that by…’
New Information. This is a chance for family members to share something that is new to them, a new decision, a new goal, etc.; whatever is information that will be new to the family.
Hopes and Wishes. Just start statements with ‘I wish that…’ or ‘I hope that…’ When families can get down to their core hopes and wishes, it influences what they appreciate, worry about, complain about, how they solve problems, and what they are willing to share as new information.
As families learn to take the temperature of their family unit, the better grasp they will have on how everyone is feeling and doing within the family system. I would encourage weekly or biweekly check-ins, or at least once a month to allow members of the family to share their perspective.