Many parents avoid awkward discussions with their kids but honesty is a vital part of the parent-child relationship. By talking through issues you can help your relationship with your child or teenager grow, and as a result, everyone is happier and more relaxed. It will also help your child feel included, valued and able to develop a sense of confident, effective communication as he or she heads towards adulthood.
Six tips for parent-child conversations
Of course every child is different, and some subjects can (or have to be) discussed sooner than others. But put yourself in your child’s shoes and imagine what you would have appreciated being told at their age – this can be a really handy guide to what they’re ready for and when.
Reading a newspaper or watching TV while your child is talking to you isn’t listening. If you really can’t take a few minutes to stop and answer a question or hear about an incident at school, say something like, ‘I can see this is really important for you. Can we discuss it later?’ Set a specific time to talk and stick to your arrangement, so your child knows you aren’t fobbing them off.
2. Make time for serious talks
For big issues – moving house, divorce, school work or, for older children, times they need to be home in the evening – hold a family meeting where each member of the household is given a chance to speak. You don’t need to make the meeting too formal, just sit around the table with a coffee or juice, but make sure mobiles and the TV are switched off.
3. Understand their silence
If children don’t want to talk about a topic at a certain time, which is common with teenagers, acknowledge this and let them know you’re available to talk whenever they’re ready.
4. Watch your body language
Folded arms and an angry or impatient look won’t make kids comfortable about opening up. If they’re sitting on the floor, get down with them so that you are on their level and make as much eye contact as possible to show you’re listening.
5. Use questions
Where possible, take the opportunity to discuss a big topic when they ask questions about it. In return ask them open-ended questions that require responses to keep the conversation going. If it’s a question about something like sex or puberty, don’t feel you have to cover the whole topic at once, if you feel they’re not quite ready.
6. Choose the right time
Don’t discuss important issues when your child has only just got home from school or you’ve just got in from a bad day at work – it’s important to be in a good state of mind in order to get your messages across calmly and clearly.
The difference between good and bad communication
Proper communication is important to help your children air their views, listen to yours and resolve issues.
1. Don’t judge or label
If your child wants to tell you something and you reply ‘Don’t be silly, that’s ridiculous’, he or she will feel their opinions aren’t valid and will be less likely to open up further. Even if you feel your child’s concern isn’t as serious as they think it is, be tactful.
2. Attack the problem not the person
Earn their trust so they find it easy to tell you things and then start working on a solution together. An example of this would be to say, ‘I get annoyed when you don’t feed the dog,’ instead of saying, ‘You’re lazy’. Don’t tell teenagers they’re irresponsible because they smoke: ask them why and how they began smoking.
3. Nagging and lecturing
If you take an aggressive or accusing tone your child is more likely to stop listening or become defensive. Avoid making little problems into arguments and instead pick the important issues to raise with your child, addressing a dilemma clearly and as briefly as possible.
4. Don’t interrupt
Give your child a chance to finish what they’re saying before you speak. Children who feel they’re not being given a fair amount of time to air their views might stop communicating altogether.
5. Don’t put children down
No matter what your child might say to you, it’s important for you to avoid shouting, name-calling, ridiculing or blaming. Even with little children, you might want to make a joke of telling them off to keep the atmosphere light, but avoid making fun of your child while you do it.
6. Don’t lie
It might seem uncomfortable to talk to your teenager about sex or about issues like money, but if you are open and honest with them, they will be encouraged to be more honest with you.
7. Don’t deny feelings
If a child is sad about not winning a race, for instance, don’t tell them to get over it or they’ll struggle to express their feelings in the future. Acknowledge what they’re going through, saying something like, ‘I know you really wanted to win; it’s hard to lose sometimes.’
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Understanding a little bit more of what your child is going through can help you ‘be there’ when you’re needed.