Talking with Kids – photo courtesy of the United States Navy- photographer: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chantel M. ClaytonCredit: photo courtesy of the United States Navy- photographer: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chantel M. Clayton

Effective communication between parents and their children and teenagers takes a different set of skills than conversations between adults.  When talking with kids, parents need to consider how it will affect their children’s self-esteem and to make sure that the power differential doesn’t impede the flow of conversation. 

Communication Traps When Parents Communicate With Their Kids

Parents tend to fall into the following traps when they communicate with their kids. None of these are helpful in effectively communicating with children and adolescents. These are considered barriers and can easily “shut down” the child or adolescent.

  • Not taking their kids’ thoughts or feelings seriously
  • Not setting aside enough time for talking
  • Correcting their kids’ grammar – while this can be a positive, a better time for this is when the parent and child is engaged in casual conversation, not while discussing something seriously.
  • Lecturing or preaching to their kids; talking at their kids instead of with their kids.
  • Interrupting – this discounts what the child is trying to convey
  • Taking away hope – when a child expresses the desire to do something; the parent squashes the dream.
  • Labeling their kids - sets them up for failure by expectations or lack of expectations.

Techniques to Communicate With Children and Teenagers

Parents can be frustrated when they attempt to give information to their kids and the kids are not accepting or open to listening.   Here are some techniques that will increase the probability the kids will engage.

  • Choose a good time.  Look for times when the kids seem interested in taCar Rides Good Time to Talk - photo courtesy of the United States Marine Corps – photographer: Sgt. Rachael K. A. MooreCredit: photo courtesy of the United States Marine Corps – photographer: Sgt. Rachael K. A. Moorelking and seize the moment. One of the best times to talk is during a drive. 
  • Use a recent event, a movie or television show or a song to start a conversation.
  • Sit at their level so they feel less power differential.  When talking to little children, squat down to their level.
  • Focus more on the behaviors that are wanted and less on the mistakes or misbehaving.
  • Parents need to instill family values in their children; to let kids know what their feelings are and what has meaning to them.
  • Help kids answer their questions by getting them to think instead of rushing to answer the question.
  • Instead of being critical and judgmental describe in detail what is seen; for example when a child brings a parent a drawing, instead of describing the picture as “good” or “bad” talk about the picture in terms of colors used. 

Listen to the Kids

One of the most important pieces of effective communication with kids is to use good listening skills with them.  Kids need to feel that what they say is important and parents care about what they feel and think.   Kids often hide their true feelings behind statements.  Parents are more effective when they are aware of what the underlying feeling is of the kids. 

When a child proclaims they have nothing to do; this might mean they are bored and want the parent to suggest something to do.  Parents need to find the feelings that are underlying the statements.  Parents can then reflect back to the child; the child will let the parent know if it is an accurate account of their feelings.  Self-esteem is increased when the parent reflects back the feelings and the words. 

Avoiding the communication traps and using the techniques outlined here helps parents model effective communication.    Kids react accordingly when parents treat them with respect and show them what they have to say is important.  Using these strategies can strengthen the parent-child relationship, increase the flow of communication and increase the child’s self-esteem.



The copyright of the article “Talking With Kids” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.