Healthy Communication With Your Child
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Healthy communication with your child
is one of the most important and rewarding skills that you can develop as a
parent. It also makes the tough parts of parenting (such as disciplining your
child) much easier and more effective. Good communication is a two-way street,
meaning that listening to your child is just as important as talking to him.
When you talk in a calm and caring manner, you
let your child know what you expect of him and give him information that he
needs. You also show him that when you ask him to calm down and control his
temper, you are practicing what you preach.
Listening to your child helps you learn more
about what is going on with your child. You can learn his thoughts about a
subject, how he is getting along socially, what problems he may be having, and
whether your child is getting the message that you are trying to
Good communication is needed so that you can be
a good teacher for your child and know what is happening in your child's
Why is healthy communication important?
Healthy communication is important because it
helps your child
Feel cared for and loved
Feel safe and not all alone with her
Learn to tell you what she feels and
needs directly in words
Learn how to manage her feelings safely
so that she does not act on feelings without thinking
Talk to you openly
Learn to listen to you
Healthy communication also helps
What are the building blocks of healthy communication?
Here are a few important ways to build healthy
Be available. Make time in
everyone's busy schedule to stop and talk about things. Even 10
minutes a day without distractions for you and your child to talk can
make a big difference in forming good communication habits. Turn off the
television or radio. Give your undivided attention to your child. Sit
down and look at your child while you talk. Those few minutes a day can
be of great value.
Be a good listener. When
you listen to your child, you help your child feel loved and valued. Ask
your child about his feelings on a subject. If you are not clear about
what your child is saying, repeat what you are hearing to be sure that
you understand what your child is trying to say. You do not have to
agree with what your child is saying to be a good listener. Sharing his
thoughts with you helps your child calm down, so later he can listen to
Show empathy. This means
tuning in to your child's feelings and letting him know you
understand. If your child is sad or upset, a gentle touch or hug may let
him know that you understand those sad or bad feelings. Do not tell your
child what he thinks or feels. Let him express those feelings. And be
sure not to minimize these feelings by saying things like,
“It's silly to feel that way,” or
“You'll understand when you get older.” His
feelings are real to him and should be respected.
Be a good role model.
Remember, children learn by example. Use words and tones in your voice
that you want your child to use. Make sure that your tone of voice and
what you do send the same message. For example, if you laugh when you
say, “No, don't do that,” the message will be
confusing. Be clear in your directions. Once you get the message across,
do not wear out your point. If you use words to describe your feelings,
it will help your child to learn to do the same. When parents use
feeling words, such as, “It makes me feel sad when you
won't do what I ask you to do,” instead of screaming or
name calling, children learn to do the same.
Keys to healthy communication
Give clear, age-appropriate directions
such as, “When we go to the store I expect you to be polite and
stay with me.” Make sure your child understands what you have
said. Sometimes children do not fully understand the meanings of words
they hear and use.
Praise your child whenever you can.
Calmly communicate your feelings.
Listen carefully to what your child
Use your talking times as teachable
moments – do not miss opportunities to show your child healthy
Model what you want your child to do
– practice what you preach.
Make sure that when you are upset with
your child, she knows that it is her behavior that is the problem, not
the child herself.
Give broad, general instructions such
as, “You'd better be good!”
Name call or blame. “You are
bad” should be replaced with “I don't like the way
you are acting.”
Yell or threaten.
Lie or tell your child half-truths.
Use silence to express strong feelings.
Long silences frighten and confuse children.
Discipline is not punishment
Part of a parent's job is to discipline a
child. Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is actually a form of
communication. It means teaching children appropriate behavior and correcting
How do you change a child's behavior? The
most effective way is through healthy communication. Make sure to teach your
child what positive behavior is and praise him when he behaves the way you want
him to. Focus on the things he does right and he will be less likely to do
things you do not want him to do.
No matter how old your child is, he needs you to
calmly and clearly explain (in language that he can fully understand) what you
expect from him and what the consequences will be (for example, taking away a
privilege) if he acts inappropriately. Then, if the child does misbehave, follow
through on the consequences you and he have already discussed. This way, you are
not reacting purely out of anger or frustration.
Keeping your cool
There are times when all parents feel that they
are out of patience. However, it is always important to find ways to help your
child to behave without hurting her feelings. Here are a few ways to calm
yourself when you feel stressed, before you try to talk with your child.
Take a few deep breaths very slowly.
Wait 5 minutes before starting to talk
to your child.
Try to find a word to label what you are
feeling (such as “disappointment”). Say it to yourself and
be sure that it is appropriate for you child.
Share your feelings of frustration with
your spouse or a friend.
Do not hold grudges. Deal only with the
Seek professional help if you feel that
you have lost control.
Quick ways to offer praise
A smile and a short phrase can communicate
valuable information. Here are just a few phrases that will go a long way.
You made my day!
You are so responsible.
Good for you.
You are really growing up!
I like the way you share.
You figured it out on your own.
I like the way you took care of
What a good listener you are!
You are so important to me.
I love you so much!
Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics. All rights reserved.