Three Steps To Great Parent-Child Communication
When parents and kids are able to talk to each other in a way where honest and meaningful communication takes place – and both parent and child leave the conversation happy, thoughtful, and upbeat – wonderful things can happen.
However, the problem is that most Modern parents feel that they’re failing when it comes to having great conversations with their kids.
Most Modern Parents that I talk to want to have conversations with their young kids or teens where their child feels comfortable sharing their everyday thoughts and feelings. These parents also want the opportunity to be able to share their ideas and wisdom with their kids so that their kids can avoid any hurt feelings or mistakes that might happen without this great advice.
Today’s Modern Parents want to connect with their kids and have a strong parent-child bond.
But the reality is that most Modern Parents feel as if every conversation with their child or teen seems to end in arguments or hurt feelings (by either the child or the parent). I’ve also had parents tell me that they feel like they either need to hold their tongue or appear to agree with everything their child says, or otherwise, a nasty argument might erupt.
The goal of this article today is to show you that conversations with your child or teen don’t have to end up in arguing, negativity, or even holding back what you want to say. You’ll learn about the 3 important steps that you should be following in order to have great conversations that serve to build a close parent-child bond AND allows you to get your point across to your child in a way where they really hear you.
The 3 steps that you should be following in EVERY conversation with your child or teen are listen, validate, and coach. Let’s dive into each step now so that you know exactly what you need to do.
Step 1: Listen
This step seems obvious, but believe me, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Most Modern Parents start listening to their child or teen up until they think they understand the gist of what their child is saying – and then they too quickly jump to telling, advising, negating, or even shaming.
The problem is that if you jump too quickly to telling your child what to do, they won’t listen to what you have to say. You’re wasting your breath, because kids (and adults too!) need to feel understood before they are ready to listen to advice.
The is the mantra that I repeat daily to my private practice families: CONNECT BEFORE YOU CORRECT.
Now, I didn’t create this mantra myself – it’s been used by parent experts for years – but it’s a mantra that you’ve got to commit to memory in order to have better conversations with your child, because if you don’t take the time to connect with your child before parenting them, you’re simply wasting your time.
Think of it this way: your child has limited cognitive capacity for handling difficult situations in their brains. When they begin talking to you about a problem they’re having, they’re spending all of their cognitive energy maintaining their thoughts and feeling about the situation. They simply don’t have any energy to listen to someone else.
So how do you get them to shift their cognitive energy from maintaining their emotional stuff to listening to you?
It’s simple – just let them get it all out. JUST LISTEN.
Fight that urge to interrupt them by telling them why they are wrong.
Ignore the warning that you want to give them for now. Take note of it for step number 3, but keep it to yourself for now.
Let your child talk about all their thoughts and feelings, no matter how silly, wrong, or irrational you think they may be. The more they talk, the better it is for you anyway. Think of this step as your opportunity to gain as much data and information about your child as possible.
The more they talk, the more understanding you’ll have of how your child came to think and feel the way they do.
The more they talk, the more time you’ll have to form a really wise plan to help them.
But most importantly, the more they talk, the more they feel like they can trust you with their innermost stuff. And this is how a strong bond is created between parent and child – through this trust that the parent can handle the child’s emotional stuff.
It’s ok to ask questions during this step. It actually communicates to your child that you’re listening and that you’re interested – but try to keep your questions free from judgement and disapproval at this point.
When you’ve noticed that your child seems to have gotten out all of their stuff, it’s time to move on to step 2: validate.
Step 2: Validate
This step goes further in developing that trusting bond between parent and child.
Now, most parents have heard of the term validation, but they mistakenly think that it means agreeing with their child – but that is far from the truth.
Validation is simply communicating that you understand how your child came to think and feel the way that they do. You don’t have to agree with the way they think or feel, but you can communicate with them that you understand, given their unique circumstances, how they’ve arrived at the emotional place they’re at right now.
A classic example that I give to parents about validation is validating a daughter who just broke up with a boyfriend that the parent never liked in the first place. Now most parents in this situation might jump to judgement, or telling their daughter how to feel, but that is exactly what you shouldn’t do.
Let’s say that your daughter just came home from school and announced that her boyfriend just broke up with her. She just walked into the house crying and throwing her backpack and purse all around. She’s clearly upset.
Now some parents might say something like, “Good. You could do better anyway. I never liked him.” But how do you think a statement like that makes your child feel? Do you think that she would want to continue talking to you about this situation, and future situations just like this one?
Now a parent following our steps to great parent-child communication, might allow their child to talk about their thoughts and feelings a bit. They might ask questions like “what happened?” or “Do you want to tell me more?” to show that they are interested in what their child has to say.
Then, when it’s time to validate, this parent says something like, “Breakups are always tough and I can tell that you’re really hurt”. Or maybe even something like, “I know you really liked him and this seems really confusing and hurtful”.
This step is all about telling your child that you get where they’re coming from – not that you agree with it, but that you understand it. When this happens, you’ll see some of that emotional energy leave your child and they’ll be ready to hear some advice or encouragement from you.
That’s when you know you’re ready for step number 3.
Step 3: Coach
This is the step that most parents skip right to – the step where you share your wisdom and advice.
However, there’s a reason this step isn’t called the telling step – telling your child what to do won’t work either. You need to adopt a coaching style of interacting with your child if you really want them to learn a life lesson.
Your tools in this step are:
- Socratic questioning: this is a way of asking questions that serves to help your child gain a deeper understanding of an issue, or to better understand their own thoughts and feelings. Some examples are: “Why do you think this happened?”; “Could there be another reason or explanation?”; “Are you just assuming that, or do you now for certain?”. YOU might know the answer to these questions, but the point here is to get your child to this understanding on their own.
- Stories: share stories of your past. Allow your child to laugh or cry along with you as you open up and become vulnerable with your child. Keep your stories age appropriate and only share information that you’re comfortable with your child knowing. This tool really helps your child see you as a person that they can relate to.
- Goal setting: allow your child to set their own goals for themselves. You can give them your feedback (i.e. “I think you might be selling yourself short – do you think you can try out for the lead in the play as well as the other part? You might surprise yourself!”), but this tool is all about allowing your child to practice taking risks and being vulnerable with themselves. Challenge your child, but allow them to make their own goals. If you feel like they’re making too small of goals for themselves, allow the domino effect to work (I’ve written about this important principle before, you can read that article HERE).
- Encouragement: sometimes all kids need is a little encouragement. This communicates that you believe that your child is capable of great things – even when things get hard. Remember that a large part of a coach’s job is to encourage their athletes. You need to provide encouragement too.
The coaching step allows your child to learn or practice life skills. Kids and teens need to practice life skills while they’re young so that they become experts at these skills by the time they’re young adults. They won’t be able to practice these skills if you tell them what to do, or you don’t allow them to make mistakes.
Remember to play the long game here – just like a coach. Train your child for a lifetime of making good decisions by allowing them to practice at home. I always remind Modern Parents that the stakes get higher for our kids when they become young adults, so if they are going to make mistakes, we want them to make those mistakes while they’re younger.
I’ve written before that our kids shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes because these mistakes can become really great learning opportunities. Coaches teach their athletes to learn from their mistakes, and that’s the attitude that we need to have as parents during this step too.
Parent-Child Communication CAN Get Easy
Conversations with our kids and teens can be tricky, but they don’t have to be if you follow the 3 steps form above.
These steps take some practice, so don’t give up. The steps will become intuitive the more you practice them – and the more you practice them, the better your relationship with your child will get.
Want to learn more about parent-child communication?
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