What every parent needs to know about communicating with kids

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Communicating with your children is one of the greatest joys – and challenges – of being a parent. Here are some ideas for keeping the lines of communication open at your place.

Spend time

Standing on the sideline at their sports game sends a non-verbal message – ‘you’re important to me and I’m interested in you’. Stopping for an ice cream on the way home and talking about the game will emphasise this. Sit with your children and watch their favourite TV programme.

Find routines and rituals where it is natural to spend time

Look for times when your children are regularly home and plan to make yourself available. The more time you spend, the more natural your communication will become. Some yummy food and a debrief when they first come in the door after school makes a good start. Make a bedtime ritual of chatting with them in their bed. In busy households there are seldom opportunities to just talk – so get away – go out for a meal, or picnic, where you can relax. Go out for breakfast, especially if there is an issue to talk about. Make speeches at birthdays and get into the habit of sharing your favourite memories on special occasions.

Communicate in other ways

Send your daughter an email. Leave your son an answer-phone message. Leave a post-it note on their mirror, or a note in their lunchbox.

Enter their world

Enter their room – with their permission. Read their set books that they are studying for English or history and discuss. Get to know their friends.

Avoid times when there are distractions or bad moods

Give them time alone. If they’ve had a bad day, don’t pursue them or get on their back. Give them an excuse to get away. You can acknowledge their bad mood, “It looks like you had a bad day – if you want to talk, I’m here.”

Be honest

A lack of honesty breaks down communication. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. “I’m not sure I really understand what you are going through but let’s talk.”

Never close the door of communication

If things have been hot and awful, you have a good reason to keep communicating – and the worst reason to stop. Wait for the emotions to cool, and re-initiate contact.

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Use humour

Tickle their funny bone. Humour can work wonders even with the most out-of-sorts teenager. As one mother responded when her daughter complained that she favoured her sister, “You’re wrong I feel exactly the same way about both of you – you both drive me crazy!”

Start now

Whether it is at the dinner table, in the car, getting ready for bed, waiting for food at a restaurant, there’s some quiet space – what do you do? Ask a question. Listening to your kid’s answers for just five minutes may do more to build your relationship than five months of telling them what to do.

  • What is your favourite room in the house?
  • What would you do with a million dollars?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why there?
  • Why do we have laws/rules?
  • What happens to people who break the law?
  • What do you most enjoy doing with your family?
  • Other than playtime and lunchtime what did you most enjoy at school today? Why?
  • If our family had to move to another town, what would you miss the most?
  • How do you decide who your friends will be?
  • Which day is usually your best day each week?
  • If you could become a cartoon character, which one would you want to be? Why?
  • What does the Prime Minister do?
  • If I gave you $10 today, what would you do with it?
  • What is the meanest thing anyone ever did to you? Said to you?
  • What does a conscience do? Where does it come from? Do you have one?
  • What are five questions that kids your age would like to be asked?
  • Who are the three greatest people you’ve ever learned about? What makes them so ‘great’?
  • What bothers you most?
  • What’s your favourite time of day?
  • What is the best gift you’ve ever given to anyone? What made it so special?
  • In all the things you’ve had to forgive people for, what has been the toughest thing to forgive? Why?
  • If you could talk to anyone in the world on the phone, who would you talk to? What would you ask them?
  • What does it mean to be really ‘rich’? Exactly how much do you have to have?
  • What does it mean to be a ‘true’ friend? Why do you have friends?
  • Do you want friends or need them?
  • When you’ve done something wrong, is it ever hard to say, “I’m sorry”? Why?
  • Is there someone in your life you can’t stand to be around? What bothers you the most about them?
  • If you were Mum or Dad, what would your top five rules be?
  • Which do you like more – being alone or with other people? Why?
  • What is the best job in the whole world?
  • Why do wars get started between countries? What causes them? What stops them?
  • When do you feel happiest?

Try this

A child who is struggling with a situation is often looking for someone to simply ‘hear them out’ and understand. They want one other person to deeply know and care. This is one of the most amazing forms of love we can give. It reassures a child we are on their side, their pain matters to us, and we care.

A child also wants to hear that we trust them and believe they have the ability to manage the situation. It often pays to wait before we offer our advice. Until they have been heard, it can be hard for a child to take that advice on board.

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