In parenting, good communication with your children is the foundation for success. Knowing how to communicate is not always intuitive, however. The rules also change as children age, but there are a few basic principles to keep in mind that can serve as a guide.

  1. Be a good role model for how you want your child to communicate. That means listening when they or others talk and showing respect for their ideas.
  2. Don’t try to discuss something important when you are busy or running out the door. Choose a time when everyone is free and is not too tired, stressed or hungry.
  3. Practice and use “reflective listening” where you paraphrase (sometimes adding in your own interpretation to help them identify their feelings) what they have said to make sure you understood. For example, “I just want to make sure I understood – you are saying that you are feeling frustrated that I’ve said you can’t go to Johnny’s house to spend the night because you feel you are ready for that step?”
  4. Try to minimize emotions, especially negativity, when discussing important topics. People (kids and adults) get more defensive when they feel attacked, accused or judged. Getting them to argue their point more strongly will solidify their stance, not see your point of view. Talk calmly, rationally, and ask their opinions without immediate judgment.
  5. Ask open-ended questions or prompts like, “Tell me more,” “What was that like for you?,” “What do you think we should do?”

Sometimes it is also helpful to schedule family meetings where you can discuss important topics. It can be hard to find the time with busy schedules, and it can be very hard to minimize the negative emotion, but being able to talk openly with one another and solve problems pays off in the long run. 

Some great books on the topic are “How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen and Listen so Your Kids will Talk” and “How to Talk so Your Teens will Listen and Listen so Your Teens will Talk.” 

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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