Parent/Child Communication (page 3)

By — Center for Effective Parenting
Updated on Jan 2, 2009

Communicating During Conflicts

All families will have conflicts at one time or another. While such conflicts can be upsetting, they need not be too disruptive. There are many different things that parents can do to smoothly get through conflicts and to keep the lines of communication open at the same time. Here are some suggestions.

Work on one problem at a time. During conflicts, it is best to try to solve one problem at a time. It is not a good idea to bring up many different issues at once. This can be very confusing to both children and their parents. When this happens families can quickly lose sight of the real issues.

Look for creative ways to solve problems. When trying to solve conflicts, parents should try to keep in mind that there is usually more than one solution to any problem. Parents and children should work together to find solutions that are agreeable to all parties. Learning to be flexible when solving problems is a great tool for children to have. If one solution doesn't work, parents should try to be flexible enough to try alternative solutions.

Be polite. Parents shouldn't forget the ordinary rules of politeness simply because they are dealing with their children. During conflicts, or at any other time, parents should treat their children with the same amount of respect that they would show to any other person. Children are people, too, and they deserve to be treated with respect. Sometimes during the heat of an argument or disagreement parents say things to their children that they would never say to another relative or a close friend. Parents should make an effort not to do this.

Use "I" messages. When discussing conflicts with their children, parents should always try to state problems in terms of how they feel. For example, instead of saying something like "You never pick up your clothes like you're supposed to," parents should try something like "I feel frustrated when you don't pick up your clothes." By using "I" messages, parents are telling their children how their behavior makes them feel, instead of accusing and/or blaming. "I" messages are effective because children are much less likely to resist or rebel against something that is stated in terms of how the parent feels. Stating things in terms of "I" messages are much less threatening to children than are accusing and/or blaming. "I" messages also show children how to take responsibility for their own actions. Parents who express their feelings in such a way are also teaching their children to do the same.

Be willing to forgive. Teach your children to be forgiving by doing so yourself.

How To Avoid Negative Communication

Unfortunately, many parents aren't aware of just how often they use negative forms of communication with their children. These parents may, as a result, be planting the seeds of mistrust and low self-esteem in their children. This is why it is so important for parents to become aware of and to correct any negative forms of communication they may be using with their children. Below is a list of examples of negative communication. Parents should go through this list and identify any of these negative communication patterns that seem familiar. After identifying problem areas, parents can then begin making changes. Keep in mind that the list below does not contain every possible example of negative communication. There are probably many things that can be considered negative communication that are not included on the list below.

Examples Of Negative Communication That Parents Should Avoid

Nagging and lecturing. Nagging is repeating something that has already been said. Lecturing is giving more information than is needed without stopping to listen to other opinions or ideas. Parents can avoid nagging and lecturing by keeping their conversations with their children brief. Parents should also keep in mind that once they have told their children something once, there is no need to say it again. Instead of nagging, parents should use a consequence other than nagging (for example, timeout) when their children do not do something they have been told to do. Nagging and lecturing cause children to stop listening or to become defensive or resentful.

Interrupting. When children are talking, parents should give them the opportunity to finish what they're saying before speaking themselves. This is common courtesy. Children who feel that they can't get a word in edgewise with their parents may stop communicating with them altogether.

Criticizing. Parents should avoid criticizing their children's thoughts, feelings, ideas, and/or children themselves. Children often see such criticisms as direct attacks, and the result can be lowered self-esteem. When necessary, parents should criticize behavior, or what children have done, not children themselves.

Dwelling on the past. Once a problem or conflict is solved, parents should try not to mention it again. Children should be allowed to start over with a clean slate. Parents who constantly bring up their children's past mistakes are teaching their children to hold grudges for long periods of time. Also, children need to know that once a matter is settled it remains settled.

Trying to control children through the use of guilt. This involves trying to make children feel guilty because of their thoughts, feelings, and/or actions. Parents who use guilt to control their children may do great harm to their relationship with their children.

Using sarcasm. Parents are using sarcasm when they say things they don't mean and imply the opposite of what they're saying through their tone of voice. An example is a parent saying something like, "Oh, aren't you graceful," when a child breaks something. The use of sarcasm hurts children. Sarcasm is never a useful tool for parents who are trying to effectively communicate with their children.

Telling your children how to solve their problems. This happens when parents jump in and tell their children how they should do things instead of letting them have some input into solutions for problems. Parents who tell their children how to solve their problems may lead children to believe that they have no control over their own lives. Such children may end up believing that their parents don't trust them. Or, they may resent being told what to do and as a result resist their parents' directions.

Putting children down. Put-downs can come in many different forms such as name calling, ridiculing, judging, blaming, etc. Put-downs are detrimental to effective communication. Put-downs can damage children's self-esteem. Children who are put down by their parents often feel rejected, unloved, and inadequate.

Using threats. Threats are rarely effective. They often make children feel powerless and resentful of their parents.

Lying. No matter how tempting it is to make up a lie to, for example, avoid talking about uncomfortable topics like sex, parents should not do so. Parents should try to be open and honest with their children. This will encourage children to be open and honest with their parents. Also, children are very perceptive. They are often very good at sensing when their parents are not being totally honest with them. This can lead to feelings of mistrust.

Denying children's feelings. When children tell their parents how they feel, parents shouldn't make light of these feelings. If, for example, a parent feels his or her child shouldn't feel sad about losing a baseball game, he or she shouldn't say so. Parents should instead say something supportive, for example, "I know you really wanted to win. It's hard to lose sometimes." With younger children, this can be done by using simple, concrete words. Children need to have their feelings supported by their parents. Parents need to show their children understanding when it comes to their feelings. If they don't, children will as a result feel misunderstood by their parents.

Communication Builders

Here are some examples of things parents can say to their children to help open the lines of communication:

"I'd like to hear about it."

"Tell me more about that."

"Shoot. I'm listening."

"I understand."

"What do you think about ..."

"Would you like to talk about it?"

"Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?"

"That's interesting."


"I'm interested."

"Explain that to me."

Effective, open communication takes a lot of hard work and practice. Parents should remember that they will not be perfect. Parents make mistakes. What is important is that parents make the effort to effectively communicate with their children starting when their children are very young. The result will be a much closer, positive relationship between parents and their children.

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