1. Use “I feel/when you/could you please” statements instead of blaming statements when approached with a conflict
Instead of: You never listen to me!
Try: I feel like you are not listening to me, when you do not look at me as I talk. Could you please give me your attention next time I talk to you?
Instead of: You are such a liar!
Try: I feel hurt when you are not truthful with me. Could you please be honest next time?
Using an “I feel” statement instead of a “when you” statement helps in many different ways. First, it helps model healthy communication to your child and helps them label emotions. Second, it allows them to be more open to what you are saying because you are not coming across in a way that is blaming, instead you are coming across in a way that is open for collaboration. This simple change in language can do wonders for your communication with your child.
2. Clearly define expectations BEFORE behaviour happens
If there is a specific behaviour that your child struggles with, or a certain set of circumstances in which the behaviour is more likely to occur, communicate exactly what you expect from your child BEFORE the behaviour happens. This will allow the child to know what to expect, and will help you avoid using in the moment responses to behaviour such as bribing or yelling.
3. Use a calm tone of voice
First of all, I want to acknowledge how HARD this can be sometimes. It is not always easy to keep your calm, but it is important to do so. As parents it is our role to be our child’s place of calm especially during their emotional storms. The research on yelling specifically shows it to be an ineffective form of communication for many reasons. It has been found that when a child is yelled at they hear the tone of voice and sense their parents anger, but after the yelling incident were not able to report the reason why they got into trouble. They may become fearful of the parent and discontinue their behaviour momentarily, but they do not learn why their behaviour was wrong, or what the parent expects from them, which may mean that the behaviour continues in the future.
Further, the yelling may actually be reinforcing the behaviour if the behaviour is a means of getting attention from the parent. Instead of yelling calmly follow through with consequences that you had previously outlined.
4. Show the child you are listening with your non verbal communication
If we want to increase communication with our children, we have to let them know that what they are saying is important to us! We can show children we are listening by making eye contact, posturing our body towards them, nodding and making appropriate faces to what they are saying. When we show kids that we are listening, we are encouraging them to continue talking!
5. Show the child you are listening with your verbal communication
Another way to show our children that we are listening to them is to repeat back to them what they are saying to us. Here are some great examples of phrases to use to show your child that you are listening:
- It’s really hard when Daddy leaves for work, you feel sad.
- I want to make sure I am hearing you correctly, did you say _____?
- Am I correct in saying that you are feeling ____?
- You feel frustrated right now, you don’t want to share.
- I hear you saying _________.
- It makes sense that you would feel_______.
- You are frustrated right now, you don’t want to brush your teeth.
- It sounds like you are telling me _______.
6. Model the communication style you want to see
Children learn from what they see their parents doing. If you communicate with your spouse, friends, family members by yelling/swearing/withdrawing, your child is going to quickly learn to communicate that same way. Make sure your child sees you practicing healthy communication with those around you, and soon they will be doing the same!
7. Talk to the child about things they enjoy
One way to start healthy communication habits is to find topics of conversation that excites your child and motivates them to have conversation. Show them you are listening to them, and encourage them to talk to you! This will help them learn that you care about things they care about, and that you want to talk to them!
8. Listen to their opinion, even when you disagree
A key aspect to healthy communication is that you are able to listen to opinions that you disagree with, without responding in a way that is argumentative, condescending, or interrupting. Allow your child to complete their full thought before responding with your own opinion. This allows them to know that even if you disagree you still value their opinion and their point of view. They will be much more likely to come to you again in the future if they feel that you will hear them out!
9. Resist arguing about who is right
Instead of arguing about who is right and who is wrong (because it is not always relevant, and is mostly self-serving as humans like to feel like they are the ones who are right!) try saying: “Even though I understand that you feel ______, I feel ______.
You can even try “Even though I understand that you feel ______, I feel ______, can we agree on ______? Being willing to work with your child, validating their feelings, will help them be willing to compromise and work with you in the future as well.
10. Be intentional about your own communication habits
If you make healthy communication a habit in all aspects of your life, healthy communication will easily become a part of your relationship with your child. It is never too late to start building healthy communication whether your child is brand new or your child is an adult. Being intentional about listening and respecting each others opinion is something that will benefit a child at any age.