Family Connections Training Tips:
Suggested by Family Connections Leaders

Setting Ground Rules

At the start of the first class, it's important to set the expectation upfront about the importance of attendance (each class builds upon the previous class and missing more than 1 or 2 classes will greatly undermine the learning process), punctuality and confidentiality. You may have other ground rules you wish to discuss at the start of the class. 

Punctuality: Start on Time and End on Time

State at the first class that all future classes will be started within 5 minutes of start-time so that class members clearly understand the expectation. Stop promptly after 2 hours. Some groups vote to go for 2-1/2 hours to have more 'talk time'. Those who want to stay do, others leave if they wish to. Most choose to stay.

Don't play the role of Therapist

Avoid positioning yourself as a therapist when asked by family members to give them specific advice. Many participants will immediately see you as an expert. Remind them that you too are a family member, and not a therapist. Instead, brainstorm a problem as a group and come up with possible suggestions. If you don't know how to answer an important question about the course material or how to handle a delicate situation, always e-mail Anne Reeve first. She will consult with Dr. Alan Fruzzetti on certain topics and get back to you on a timely basis.


Story-telling is a very powerful way to make the class richer and more personal. However, avoid talking too much about your own situation unless it is relevant to the subject you are covering. Allow participants to share their stories, while still managing the time. Some students may become very emotional so it is important to listen respectfully and validate their experience. Participants need to feel they are in a safe and confidential environment. 

Class Activities

Some of the exercises listed at the end of each module lend themselves to being done in class. For example, asking participants to identify a situation where a participant 'missed' their primary emotion, and a way they might remember the next time a similar event occurs. Exercises can also be adapted to fit even more closely with the material being covered. The sharing of these can be done in groups of three (groups formed by having everyone count 1, 2 or 3), making sure each person has a time to talk and get feedback. Some results could be shared with the entire group, but that is usually not needed. 


Have volunteers from the class role-play situations to illustrate a particular skill (e.g. validation, saying 'no' without being invalidating, mindfulness, using descriptive phrases instead of judgments). The role-play could first be performed by the Family Connections co-leaders, then pair off the students (or place them in triads) and have them role-play their own situations. You can develop real-world BPD statements, attacks, requests, etc. that class members can attempt to respond to in a validating way. 


Give homework each week at the end of each class, asking participants to answer one or two questions or practise a skill during the week. During the next class, you will need to limit their answers or experiences to no more than 2 or 3 sentences in order to get around to everyone and still have time to cover the week's class material. 

Managing Dominant Participants

Avoid having one or two participants dominating a discussion. You can accomplish this by not giving that person eye contact and looking at others for stories or ideas, or simply by saying 'Let's hear from someone we haven't heard from yet.'


Sounds mundane, but if everyone signs up for a date to bring a snack, it brings the group together. They often talk about the delicious goodies and feel they are contributing to the group. We plan our small group activities to back up to the 'snack break', so that conversations then continues.

Photograph taken by Hamza Butt.