Tips on Communicating With Children


I was recently involved in a difficult conversation with a colleague which didn’t go well. And, I think one of primary reasons was that we were using email. There was no change to soften a comment with a voice change, to clarify and solidify understanding or to exchange ideas as we moved forward.

I wish I had simply picked up the phone and even better arranged to meet the person face-to-face. Communication is more than email, opinions and information. The same goes when we are talking to our children. 

Chatting with our kids

Recently I sent an email to a colleague. He responded and it was immediately obvious that he hadn’t understood my message. So I sat in front of my computer to explain myself more fully.

Then the light went on. If he had just sent me an email he was sitting at his desk, and so was I. We could actually talk. So I picked up the phone.

I’ve been doing that more and more. There are times for messages and email is fabulous for that. And there are times for conversations to explain, clarify and enhance understanding.

All of which caused me to think about our communication with our kids. If we are losing our ability to communicate with our peers, what is this doing to our communication with our children?

The question on every parent’s mind is; “How do I get them to tell me what happened at school? Let’s look at what many of us do now. The minute we see our child, we hug them then immediately we engage them in a dialogue about their day at school.  “Did you have a good day?” Did Mr. Purdy give you that test?” “How did you do with your English report?”

Did I say dialogue? Sounds like an interrogation. How would you like to come home from work, put down your briefcase or take off your hardhat and have the questions begin? “Did your boss talk to you today? Did you finish that section of flooring in the building you’re working on?” You would likely say something like, “I’m tired, I’ve had a long day, leave me alone for Pete’s sake.”

Of course we want to know what our children are doing when they are not with us. But the bottom line is that much of it is boring and some of it is none of our business. Between classes Roger and Gil talked about the football game and during class the teacher droned on about the Peloponnesian Wars and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Surrinder and Marie had a long conversation about their classmate, Justin. Surrinder asked Marie if she thinks that Justin likes her. He did look across the room and smile, didn’t he? Should she go up to him and say hello? This conversation went on for most of the day and trust me this is one you will not be privy to, it’s private.

So what does all this mean? We need to learn to converse, not interrogate and to respect our children’s privacy. They will choose what to tell us in the same way that we choose what to tell them, our spouses, parents and friends.

Conversation requires time. When all our communication takes place on the fly it tends to become terse and bland. We share basic information. “Mom, I need a ride to Jessica’s place tonight.” Or we determine basic facts. “Terry, have you finished your homework?”

The old-fashioned family meal is still the best time for family conversation. I know, for most of you, sitting down together seven nights a week is a dream, not a reality. But with a little planning we can often pull it off four nights a week, and don’t forget breakfast. Some families do actually make breakfast a family meal.

Instead of grilling your kids, start to chat. Tell a funny story about something that happened to you during the day. Comment on something you read in the paper. Or even talk about the weather. Conversation invites reply.

Then listen. If we interrupt with life lessons, with questions and with criticism our kids will soon learn to stay silent. When they have finished then you can reply. And reply with respect.

If they tell a story about a situation which they didn’t handle well avoid saying, “Don’t you think that was a mistake?” Instead say something like, “Are you happy with how you handled that situation? What could you have done differently?”

But don’t feel that every story, every comment has to turn into a lesson. For the most part it’s simply a conversation between people who are interested in each other.

A New E-Booklet

 Why is it that Jeremy and Olivia who are siblings are so different? Every child is unique and usually shows their particular temperament right from birth. What’s a parent to do?

Watch for a new e-booklet due out shortly called Vive la Difference; Raising Children with Different Temperaments.

You’ll find out in this newsletter the minute it is available.

Bringing Parenting Today to your event.

Parenting Today is keen to speak as part of your professional development event, parenting workshop or workplace wellness support program. I offer keynotes and workshops, have written books and have ongoing newspaper columns, books, blogs and newsletters. And, no matter what the actual topic, they all share a basic value that I call:

P.U.R.E. Parenting.

P — is a parenting plan

U — is unconditional love

R — is respect for your child as he is right now

E — is encouragement

These make up the framework of any resources that will come from Parenting Today. These four pillars are the essential ingredients for raising healthy children who will develop into capable young men and women.




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2 Responses to Tips on Communicating With Children

  1. Terri Cody says:

    I found a great way to get a conversation going is ask a question like: “What is one good thing that happened to you today?” What is one thing you learned today?” If the adult also shares their experiences, the child is more apt to share. The key is the adult needs to be open and accept the child’s answer as genuine and honest.

    • kathylynn says:

      Thanks Terri. And if you have a child who doesn’t want to answer questions just tell a story about something that happened to you and they will be keen to participate.

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