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Mark Hutten, M.A.
Re: Ways to Improve Parent-Child Communications

How can I improve communications with my child?

Here are a few important ways to build healthy communication:

•        Be a good listener: When you listen to your youngster, you help your youngster feel loved and valued. Ask
your youngster about his feelings on a subject. If you are not clear about what your youngster is saying, repeat what
you are hearing to be sure that you understand what your youngster is trying to say. You do not have to agree with
what your youngster is saying to be a good listener. Sharing his thoughts with you helps your youngster calm down, so
later he can listen to you.
•        Be a good role model: Remember: kids learn by
example. Use words and tones in your voice that you
want your youngster 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 youngster to learn to do the
same. When moms and dads 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, kids
learn to do the same.

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 youngster to talk can make a big difference in forming
good communication habits. Turn off the television or radio. Give your undivided attention to your youngster. Sit down
and look at your youngster while you talk. Those few minutes a day can be of great value.

Show empathy: This means tuning in to your youngster's feelings and letting him know you understand. If your
youngster 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 youngster 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.
More Tips to Improve Communication—


• Be truthful.
• Calmly communicate your feelings.
• 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 youngster understands what you have said.
Sometimes kids do not fully understand the meanings of
words they hear and use.
• Listen carefully to what your youngster says.
• Make sure that when you are upset with your youngster,
she knows that it is her behavior that is the problem, not the
youngster herself.
• Model what you want your youngster to do – practice what
you preach.
• Praise your youngster whenever you can.
Use your talking times as teachable moments – do not miss opportunities to show your youngster healthy communication.


• Give broad, general instructions such as, "You'd better be good!"
• Lie or tell your youngster half-truths.
• Name call or blame. "You are bad" should be replaced with "I don't like the way you are acting."
• Use silence to express strong feelings. Long silences frighten and confuse kids.
• Yell or threaten.

Keeping Your Cool—

There are times when all moms and dads feel that they are out of patience. However, it is always important to find ways to
help your youngster 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 youngster:

• Do not hold grudges. Deal only with the present.
• Seek professional help if you feel that you have lost control.
• Share your feelings of frustration with your spouse or a friend.
• Take a few deep breaths very slowly.
• 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 youngster.
• Wait 5 minutes before starting to talk to your youngster.

Healthy communication with your youngster 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 youngster) much easier and more effective.