Establishing Communication with Your Child from an Early Age

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By Kacie Shipman, MSW, LSW – July 3, 2024 –

It’s important to teach your child to communicate well from an early age. Getting your children to share their thoughts or feelings with you can sometimes feel like an impossible task. Often, as children age and their peers become an increasingly important part of their lives, they spend more time communicating with friends than their parents/caregivers.

As a school social worker, when working with teens and encouraging them to share with their parents, we discuss the barriers to being more open. First, students tend to share that their parents or caregivers are too busy to listen. The definition of busy can vary. I encourage children to think of times where they might interact with their parents, such as on a car ride home from school or practice.

Set aside a time where the distractions are limited and give kids an open opportunity by verbally reminding them you always have time for conversation. This is a good way to open a discussion. Sharing during car rides or dinner prep might be situations where they don’t feel pressured to make eye contact. 

Most children are concerned about the reaction they will receive when they share their feelings. Establish a plan where the child lets you know they have something on their hearts that needs specific, uninterrupted time for conversation. One way could be to leave a note or send a text that they would like to talk. This is a time where siblings or other household members understand that interruptions should be limited. Your child will feel valued by the specific time set aside.

During this time, provide them with the opportunity to share fully before expressing your thoughts or feelings. It’s a good idea to take an hour or wait until the next evening to give yourself time to reflect and regulate before responding.

Letting your child know that you won’t react in a big way can help decrease initial hesitation to talk about a difficult feeling or situation. If your child is concerned that what they share will bring about conflict or punishment, their hesitancy may override their desire to have you help them problem-solve or provide a supportive listening ear.

Share with your child that it is okay to reflect on your feelings and not make quick statements from an initial reaction. This will help in all of their relationships. Relationships suffer when things are said in haste or when we are dysregulated by the intensity of the discussion that may have caught us off guard.

Using statements to reflect how you are feeling by using “I” can help tremendously in making difficult conversations productive. An example of using an “I statement” with your child could be, “I felt a lot of fear and concern when your curfew passed last night and I wasn’t sure where you were.” Walls of defense go up when we hear “you” to start a conversation. When walls are up, the conversation tends to be defensive rather than on finding to a solution.

Being vulnerable and showing concern and fear rather than anger can also help keep your child’s walls of defense down. Overall, teaching and modeling positive healthy communication styles for your child teaches them lifelong skills. Positive communication skills will help your child in many aspects of both their private and professional lives.