10 Rules to Improve Communication with Your Child or Anyone Else

Kids sometimes feel more criticized than understood. In our eagerness to help, we sometimes try to fix problems, correct behaviors, or give feedback before we fully understand the child’s perspective. Following are some guidelines I recommend for parents; I also use these rules for friends and family, since these ideas work for spouses, partners and friends as well.

1. I will listen to my child’s point of view until l really understand it. This doesn’t mean I will agree with what is said. It means I will take the time to really “get it” before I respond. Showing that you understand what someone actually intends before you respond is more likely to lead to a productive outcome.

2. I will respect what actually interests or is important to my child, rather than expecting him to share my views of what is important. This means acknowledging that what they think is legitimate even if you have to ask or tell them to do something else.

3. I will listen to expressions of feelings and communicate understanding if my child is upset, rather than immediately trying to fix them. How often do we jump in and try to make things better, rather than acknowledging we care? Doing that can inadvertently invalidate feelings: “Oh, you shouldn’t take that so seriously.” Sometimes our kids don’t tell us what’s bothering them (like teasing) because they’re afraid we won’t just listen and our “fixing” will make things worse.

4. I will not offer solutions unless asked for them. This takes a lot of self-control. Older children won’t listen to your solution anyway, and they’ll think you’re a pain or do the opposite of what you suggest. If a solution is necessary, link it to what your child wants, even if that’s just to get someone off her back.

5. I will decide how to respond to behavior that upsets me when I’m calm. Responding impulsively out of anger can make things worse, or be unfair. I can’t control a fight, but I can control my timing.

6. I will recognize problem situations that happen repeatedly. That will enable me to find a calm time to talk with my child, and together come up with a strategy to improve the situation. 

7. I will put away my cell phone and pay attention to those I love and care about when we’re eating or spending time with each other.  I understand and will tolerate symptoms of electronic withdrawal.

8. I will be clear and specific in my expectations and requests. Complaining “You’re not being thoughtful/helpful” necessitates mind reading. Saying, “I wish you would ask me if I need something when you stop by the store” is a lot more meaningful.

9. I will give my child a chance to take risks and experience consequences (within reason).  It’s the only way he can grow.

10. I will take responsibility for my own choices and actions, and not blame someone else for them. For example, if I drop what I’m doing to fill a request whenever someone asks, I have only myself to blame. This last idea is critical, because it means you will take care of yourself. You need to feel OK yourself. This means knowing what you need (sleep, self-care, R&R) and taking the responsibility for getting it—you have to make the time.