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Family Talk

How to talk to your child

Healthy communication is a must for strong relationships with our children. Check out these tips for how to engage with your child in meaningful ways through all that life brings.

Building vocabulary

Whether things are going great or there is struggle, identifying how we are feeling is a key to working through issues and communicating effectively.  Help your child build their vocabulary of feelings.  You can do this by modeling using feeling words: “I was disappointed today when my friend didn’t do what she said she would.”  You can also ask them questions to help know more about how they’re feeling: “I see that you were angry when you had to come inside for dinner.  Did you feel frustrated or sad that play time was over?”

Here are some words to get you started:
Happy, Proud, Strong, Important, Cared for, Appreciated, Respected, Honored, Cheerful, Liked, Courageous, Hopeful, Pleased, Excited, Smart, Empowered, Impatient, Unhappy, Disappointed, Helpless, Resentful, Bitter, Sad, Hopeless, Guilty, Unloved, Hurt, Angry, Abandoned,    Gloomy, Exhausted, and Jealous

When things are going well

The perfect time to work on building great communication with your child is actually when everything is going well.  Everyone is more willing to share when it’s positive so take the opportunity to connect in new ways.  This builds trust and positive relationships that children will rely on!

Try these ideas

  • Connect with your child on a regular basis.
  • Ask about how things are going for them and listen to what they share.
  • Get involved with things they enjoy.  Sometimes talking is easier when you’re doing something!
  • Share things you’re each grateful for.
  • Notice qualities you admire or respect about your child and tell them!
  • Assure your child that they can always come to you and remind them that no matter what it is, you want to hear what they have to say.

Conversation Starters

  • “Tell me more about…”
  • “Tell me about something that’s going really well for you right now?”
  • “I’d love to hear what you think about…”

When things are tough

There will be seasons of parenting where communicating with our children can be a bit harder. This might be because of busy schedules, differences in opinion, lack of time together, or many other reasons. Don’t give up! Press in and keep working to connect…your children need and want it!

Try these ideas

  • Make intentional, daily conversation a priority.
  • Ask how your child is feeling about the change/new season of life.
  • Validate their feelings and thoughts, even if you don’t feel the same.
  • Make time for fun together!  Remember, sometimes it’s easier to talk when you’re involved in an activity.
  • Remind your child that you love them and want to hear anything they want to share.

Conversation Starters

  • “I know life has been so busy lately.  How does that make you feel?”
  • “I’ve missed talking to you.  Can we find a time to hang out, just the two of us?”
  • “How are you feeling about…”
  • “What do you think we could do to get things back on track?”

When something is wrong

There will be times in life when events happen that impact your family.  It might be a death, divorce, move, etc.  These are the times when your children will fall back on the routines and comfort of what’s familiar.  Use what you’ve been doing when things were good and lean into conversations about the hard parts of life.

Try these ideas

  • Schedule a family meeting or one-on-one time to talk specifically about what’s going on.
  • Listen with the intent to understand where your child is coming from, not to solve the problem.
  • Share your own thoughts and feelings.
  • Model for them how you are coping and processing what’s going on.  
  • Be honest! Our children know when things aren’t okay and will value being able to talk honestly about the issue.

Conversation Starters

  • “I’m here to listen to anything you want to tell me about…”
  • “How are you feeling in this moment?”
  • “What do you need from me to feel _____________ (safe, loved, heard, etc)?”
  • “I’m willing to share my thoughts if that’s something that would help you.”

For more information on effective communication see these resources:
Article from Center for Effective Parenting
Article from SmarterParenting
Article from Center for Parenting Education

Family resources