by Nicholeen Peck
Parents have to navigate some pretty tough topics in our modern world. These topics range from sibling rivalry and disconnection from parents to addictions, romance, drugs, spiritual skepticism, digital usage, and social dilemmas. Parents frequently ask me questions such as, “What should I say to my son about his girlfriend who is getting too serious?” “How should I talk to my child about the need to detach from her device?” “My child is questioning his faith. How do I talk about that with him?” “Is there a way to get my child to open up to me?” “My child says that talking to me always feels negative. What can I do?”
When people first started asking me to teach parenting back in the year 2000 I was apprehensive to tell people what to say to their children since it’s vital for parents to seek specific inspiration for their children, and follow that inspiration most. However, after a short while it was clear that while many parents understood what they wanted their relationships to be like, they didn’t know what word choices were hurting or helping to achieve open, effective communication with their children.
After a while I started teaching families communication skills for successful problem solving, correction and basic teaching, but I left the deep conversations up to the inspiration of the parents. After many, many years of helping families heal their bonds and improve their communication, I have decided that it could help some families to have an insight to the framework that I follow when I see a need for some healthy, open, and connective communication with my children. These communication steps and principles will work for just about any situation and relationship.
How To Talk to Your Kids
When starting a discussion with someone, keep it private and to the point. It is not effective communication to address too many concerns all at once. When you are truly understanding of how people process and want to show that you care about really discussing, then you need to keep conversation narrowly focused and simple.
Sometimes a problem that needs to be discussed, can’t be discussed until a foundational conversation is out of the way first. For instance, a parent may see a need to discuss conquering lying behaviors, but first needs to discuss the health of the parent/child relationship. If parent and child are on the same page about their relationship goals, then it is easier to see a reason to conquer a destructive lying habit.
When opening a conversation with a child, be calm and easy to talk to. If you seem nervous, then they will put up walls. Be confident in your parent role and the health of the deliberate conversation.
Remember that this conversation isn’t about you and how you feel, it’s about them seeing a problematic situation and preparing to solve it. If a parent takes the situation personally, then they could easily resort to emotional manipulation, which is harmful for relationships in the long run. One of the best ways to keep the problem and the discussion in the analytical brain is to describe instead of react to situations that need discussing.
After the parent describes what they see, being careful to only state facts, then the child is asked to describe what they observe about the problem or conversation topic too. If parent’s opinions or emotions are shared as facts, then the understanding tone in the conversation will be ruined. Questions like, “What’s your perspective?” “How do you see it?” “What have you observed?” “What are your insights?” are all great questions to invite the child to share their analysis.
When the child shares their observations, they are suddenly taking a special interest in the problem. These questions bring the child into the solution, instead of leaving them on the outside by simply telling them what to do.
When the child shares their perspective, the parent needs to listen. One of the largest problems parents face when talking to their children is that they rarely let the children talk and feel understood. When children know that they are understood and their opinions and perceptions are taken seriously by their parents, then they feel safe opening up to their parents more.
Lack of safety is the number one reason that children choose not to open up to their parents. To increase safety, be sure to listen, repeat back, give them and their ideas the benefit of the doubt, and really care about what they say to you.
Ask questions to show your child that you are paying attention and that you are invested in what they are saying to you. Also, ask questions that help them think in a new direction if they are having a hard time seeing other options to solve the problem. But, be careful not to trap your child with questions. Questions are the best way to learn and discuss, but they can also be used to manipulate. And, when that happens, people feel it.
Meet them where they are. Explain to your child how much you understand their feelings, concerns, or point of view. Take what they said literally. Be charitable by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Most people want what is good and right. We have to trust that they are trying to be the best they can be, even if they make mistakes sometimes.
Give counsel to your children during the discussion, but keep it brief and powerful. If you can give your suggestions by way of question, all the better. Counsel can be hard to take at times, but if the tone of the interaction is caring and understanding -and the child is being counseled too- then the child is much more likely to appreciate the parent counseling, even if they don’t obviously show it.
Planning for change and problem solving. It is always best if the child can be part of the solution to problems or issues they are facing. This will help them remember even more what they are going to do in the future with similar problems. Ask them what types of positive consequences, negative consequences, or motivations could help them focus on the issue and fix things. Also plan for regular checkup times to discuss the child’s progression towards the new goal.
Bridging The Information Gap
Many parents of children, teens and young adults are feeling that there is an information gap affecting parent/child bonds and communication. They wonder if they will ever feel the closeness that they hope for with their child again.
Of course, there are many factors to consider when addressing a communication breakdown in a family. However, from what I’ve seen and experienced over the years of working with my children, troubled teens, and other families, closeness and open communication are possible in nearly all parent/child relationships if the child feels safe and understood with the parent. Following the simple steps above and having patience as your child learns that you really are the safest person for them to talk to will do more than bridge an information gap, it will connect hearts again.
For more about talking to your children or for answers to any other relationship or behavior problem, listen to the archives or ask Nicholeen a direct question on the