Having a meaningful conversation is one of the greatest privileges of parenting but it can often feel elusive, particularly when many of us are working hard just to make it to the end of the day. But consider putting communication high on your ‘to do’ list because the research shows a profound conversation with our child is key to their wellbeing now and in the future. So, how do you make it happen? Listen up to our 10 incredible tips:
How to talk to your child so they will listen
Good conversation is a two-way street
Even if you have an important agenda on your mind, get curious and ask what they think first because you never know what you might find out. Let’s say you needed to talk about taking responsibility for feeding the dog, ask them warmly how they feel it has been going.
Validate their ideas
When you talk to your child, note carefully and praise any comments from your child that could work as action points and together you can agree (write or draw) a shared policy. This validates their ideas, improves self-awareness, strengthens their problem-solving skills – and all without a row. Show some warmth and use an encouraging tone and your chances of being heard will rocket.
The emotional tone of your conversation is important
You’ll get much more listening leverage if you keep the atmosphere calm when you talk to your child. None of us – kids, parents or international CEOs – can make good decisions, listen or reflect when we are highly emotional. So, particularly for the tricky conversations that really push your buttons, prepare yourself and talk it through with a friend or partner first so that you feel calm before you start the conversation.
They go high, you go low
Family discussions can get heated partly because children are still learning to manage big feelings (it’s part of the maturational process and it improves with time) but as the adult in the room, it falls to you to keep your cool and help them stay as calm as possible. So when their emotions go high, you go low (we’ve misappropriated Michelle Obama’s phrase but we’re sure she won’t mind). Should your child start to spiral, avoid joining in with your own big emotions, instead use a calm tone and gentle body language to keep the conversation grounded.
Name the emotion
If they are in a spin, try and name the emotion you see in front of you (‘I can see you are really angry about this’) when you talk to your child as it can help emotions settle quicker. We know it works because there is strong brain science data illustrating the effectiveness of this simple technique.
Wait until your child’s emotions have settled
It can take time, sometimes many hours, for calm to reign again but if you want to be heard. Until the brain is in a calm state, it just can’t listen – it’s as if the brain is stuck in emergency mode – and it means that even the most carefully considered phrases won’t register. None of us can beat brain science, our brains are not designed to think and listen when we feel very emotional. Emotions rise but they always fall so be patient and wait while the emotional snowflakes settle and then have your conversation.
Be strategic about when and where you talk to your child
Some of your family conversations might involve some ahem… planned spontaneity. Make sure everyone involved has slept, has been fed, is warm and dry. Many of the best conversations take place in the car or on a walk where you are not face to face (which some children find off-putting). There is always the certainty that the car journey or walk will end which brings a different energy and a change of pace which is often useful if it’s a difficult topic. Talking together is best done as we weave in and out of day-to-day life .
Young children are likely to respond better to ideas when they are able to move around a bit so this might mean that you talk during an activity rather than talk as an activity. At the same time, pick the activity carefully. Drawing is a good one because it’s not so distracting that you are in competition with something highly absorbing but it allows ample fiddling around opportunities and gives you both chances for pauses and a change of focus now and then. We are big fans of drawing while talking because there are so many ways that you can get creative and draw out ideas that would be difficult for younger children to describe or understand in words alone.
Listen to them!
Here is the bottom line and perhaps the most important point of all; the best way to get your children to listen to you, is for you to listen to them, and we mean really, truly listen. This is harder than it sounds because life is busy especially when the kids are young, but if you do that, they will return the courtesy, because they have learnt that this is the way a conversation goes.
If your child opens a discussion, put down your phone or shut the laptop, and take your chance. This sort of action, showing your full attention, is very powerful because it gives the message that you want to hear what they have to say and it will strengthen your relationship. If you can’t stop what you are doing that moment, put a pin in it, say you want to hear more and suggest a time that would work – but make sure you come back to it at the time you promised. Be ready when the opportunity arises and grab the chance to listen with both hands because your child will learn from you in the most powerful and effective way – by their shared experience with you – that talking and listening matter and that conversation is incredible.
Jane Gilmour and Bettina Hohnen are clinical psychologists and academics with a specialist interest in neuropsychology. Their new book, How to Have Incredible Conversations With Your Child, is out 21 Oct published by Jessica Kingsley £14.99. See their Instagram page @incredibleconversation for more details.
The post is really incredible!!! Specially for the fellow mothers
Great advice! i wish I had resources like this when my kids were younger!
I sometimes struggle to communicate and converse with my kids. They just wont listen and do their own things instead.Thanks for these tips.
These are really great tips. Waiting for the kids to be settled really helps. I cant tell them, anything when they’re angry or crying.
This is only not great for kids but adults too. i think true listening is when you put down what you’re doing or taking a break from your job and truly listen to kids signals that they can tell you anything. And for better communication
This is such a great resource for parents! Communication is everything and it’s so important that we’re committed to working on balanced and fair communication in all relationships, especially with children. Thank you so much for sharing these tips!
These are great tips. I have two kids and I think that these are useful tips for both of them to open up the lines of communication.
This is all very good information. I’ll definitely keep all of this in mind going forward with my own kids.
These are great tips for parent like me. Thanks for sharing.