Tough conversations are never easy to have. ”I got in a fight at school.” “I got a D on my math test.” As parents, you want your children to feel like they can come to you about anything. But no matter how good your relationship is with your child, it can be difficult to bring up tough subjects. This is just as true for adults as it is for youth.
Creating a space for healthy communication is a good start to strengthening relationships between parents and children. Good communication is not something that just happens. It’s important to highlight and practice effective communication skills to deal with problems that may arise. Despite best intentions, in any family there are going to be issues that come up. However, by talking about how to communicate effectively with each other issues are less likely to result in crisis and instead create productive conversations about how to resolve problems as they pop up.
There are several communication tips that can be helpful for families but one acronym that can be easy for everyone to remember is “T.A.L.K.” This stands for Timing, Assertive Communication, Location and Knowing what to say. Let’s break down what each of these points means and discuss some specific ways this communication method can be helpful for your family.
Talk about choosing an appropriate time to talk with one another. Our lives are busy and even if family is your first priority it can be tricky to make everything work. It might be important to talk about setting a meeting time if you or your child has something important to tell each other. This way, each person’s attention can be focused on the issue at hand. Make sure your child knows that their concerns are important to you, and that is why you want to make sure you are all ears, even if it can’t be this very second. Some of the biggest barriers to effective communication are distractions and interruptions so if you can keep those to a minimum you are already making an effort towards better family communication.
It’s important that you be clear about how you feel and what you need. Depending on the specific family member, you might have to address issues in a different way. Remember to use “I” statements, take deep breaths, keep a reasonable tone, and actively listen to your family member. Don’t expect your family to read your mind. An “I” statement might still be difficult for someone to hear but at least it puts the emphasis on how you are feeling and what you would like to see change rather than on what the other person is doing “wrong.”
Rather than saying “You need to work harder to get that math grade up!” Try saying something like “I feel frustrated because I know you have it in you to do better. How can I help you to improve this grade?” This not only takes the initial “blame” off of your child and lets them know how you feel, but also works towards trying to address the ultimate issue of the grade.
It’s also important that they know you are really hearing them and acknowledging their feelings. “I’m hearing you’re upset because you feel you did poorly on that test but I’m glad you told me. What are some things we can do together to move forward?”
It’s going to take a little while for everyone to get the hang of reworking their language, but if you are employing good listening skills your kids are going to pick up on it. Not only will it be easier for them to come to you when they have an issue but hopefully they will start using some of these techniques themselves.
Choose a quiet place where you and your family member won’t be interrupted or overheard by others. This could be a designated room where you live or even outside of the home. Perhaps you have a favorite park or restaurant. Just make sure it’s a place that isn’t too noisy. By limiting distractions, you and your child will have a better chance to connect and really listen to one another .
Know What to Say:
Think about what you want to say in advance by working through your own feelings about the issue. This may mean talking with a friend about it or writing out your feelings so you can be clear about what is important for you to get across. Taking the time to think about what you want to say can help you focus on the main issues. This is a skill we talk with youth a lot about and it really seems to help them be clear about the main issues when they are talking with their parents.
Good communication takes time and effort! It’s never too early to talk with your children about communicating together in a healthy way. This is something that is going to help them throughout their lives. Remember communication is a two way street!
This information was adapted from Let’s Talk: Runaway Prevention Curriculum Module 5: Families-Roles and Responsibilities. Let’s Talk is a free, evidence-based resource, created by the National Runaway Safeline, promoting life skills for youth. You can download this complete curriculum for free by visiting 1800RUNAWAY.org.