Timed Talks

It may seem to be a drastic measure, but using a humble egg timer can be helpful in having a family discussion.  I first discovered this method while conducting therapy groups for children with severe emotional disturbance.  My group was called “Red Group,” and the members of this group were little boys with anger problems and a history of outbursts, sometimes violent.  I did not sign up to do this group and explained to my supervisor that I didn’t like dealing with anger.  She assured me that this made me the perfect person to lead the group,

We met each day at the children’s center for an after school discussion.  A healthy snack was to precede the group therapy, which is a great start.  Hungry people are not ready to discuss.  We started with ground rules.  Stay in your chair, do not interrupt, and stay on the topic.  No touching or making threatening faces or gestures.   At first, it was a mess.  An attendant was on hand to remove anyone who broke the physical contact rule.  By the end of the session, I was lucky to have three out of seven still in the circle.

One day, I ran across a beautiful hourglass timer.  It was created out of wood and metal by an artist.  It looked fragile and special.  This became my “egg timer” for keeping order in Red Group discussions.  The idea was for each person to hold the timer while the sand moved through the glass.  Only the person holding the timer could talk, and if they had nothing to say, we all waited for the time to pass.  This novelty amazingly improved listening to each other. It also gave people who often were talked over a chance to speak.

I still have this timer and it is useful in facilitating couple and family discussions.   An egg timer might be helpful to any family when it is time to have a group meeting on a heated topic.   Learning to be respectful and to wait is the beginning of listening, and that is the beginning of communication.