Conversations with Children: How to Break the Cycle of Stressful Family Communication

Communicate with kids

If there is one thing that has been constant throughout history, it is the fact that kids and parents can mix like oil and water. We are speaking about that childhood cycle of love, like, hate, like and love again. It can lead to long nights and grayer hair for Mom and Dad as their children exert their will on the world.

Is there any way to stop this cycle? In a word – no, but you can soften the blow of it with a few tried and true tips that center on staying connected with your kids. No matter what age they are now, you can begin to work on strengthening the ties that bind you so that you may avoid at least some of the headaches.

How can you do that?

Talk to your kids. It seems like a simple task, but you wouldn’t believe how many parents have a hard time with it. Conversations keep each of us in touch with our world and the people in it. Without some form of communication, no one would know what was going on.

You might say that you already talk to your kids – but do you really? Kids will tell you that there is a difference between being talked TO and being talked AT. Also, receiving their marching orders from their parents doesn’t constitute a “quality” conversation, as a conversation implies an exchange between at least two people.

But, I am here to help. This post is not to throw stones, but to encourage parents to push on and stay in touch with their kids through thick and thin. Here, you will find out:

  • Why it is important in the first place to converse with your child
  • How to start a conversation with them
  • How to validate your child’s feelings
  • The important conversations that you need to have with your child
  • Tips on how to keep the communication going even when it is the hardest of all
  • The Importance of Communicating with your Child

The parent-child relationship is one of the most influential relationships in a person’s life. From birth to age five, children are forming all sorts of new brain connections (called synapses) as a result of learned behavior. These formative years are crucial and parents are a big part of it. We give our children their first glimpses into the world of right and wrong, love and hate, body language, emotions and so much more.

Even when you think they are not noticing you, they are watching and drinking it all in. We often forget this, which is why we are so surprised when teachers and other authority inform us of some of the behaviors of our child – they’ve seen us do the same things at home.

Parents are the first teachers. That position is one to be respected and handled with care. You can do as much good as damage in word, action and thought in this position. Raising children is a labor of love but it is, in some opinions, the toughest job you’ll ever perform. We all want the best for our offspring.

Humorously, at the same time, we are often scared to death of these little (or big) people. They sit in front of us with heart-melting eyes, waiting for each word that drops from our lips. What do we say? The throat becomes dry, so we just smile and pat them on the head. Conversation is over before it begins.

If you have felt this way before, keep reading. Here are some very positive reasons for wanting to engage in conversations with your kids:

You know what they know – As kids grow up and are influenced by outside groups, they learn certain behaviors like keeping secrets. When you stay in touch with them, then you know not only what they are feeling but also what they are doing.

You can influence them – Parents want what is best for their kids. That begins with teaching their behaviors that will help them to make their way successfully in life.

Keep them from risky behaviors – Research shows that kids who eat dinner with their families are less likely to participate in such activities as underage drinking, sexual behavior at an early age, substance abuse and illegal activities. Think of how much lower those numbers could be if you made it a point of having regular conversations with them as well?

Shows your kids that you care for them – There is more to talking then just the words. There is listening also. Sometimes, all kids want is to be heard. Communicating with them effectively demonstrates more than you could possibly know to your child.

Get to know them – Even though they are your children, kids are also people unto themselves. And, if parents got to know them, they might find that they are fantastic people in their own right.

Give them a good start in life – Your kids can benefit from your trials and errors. Use your life lessons as a way to help them avoid some of the same pitfalls that you experienced growing up. Conversations that you wish you had with your parents can now be delivered from you to your child in a timely fashion where it can make a huge difference in their lives.

Where do Parents Begin?

Let’s return to that example above of the eager child and the terrified parent. We’ve all been in that position before. But, it doesn’t have to scare you. Just like making small talk at a gathering, you can also learn how to approach big talks and everyday ones with your child.

Have you ever tried to start a conversation with someone and received a one-word answer? It can be frustrating. That often happens with kids. Why? For one, if they are young, their vocabulary is limited. Two, they may not have learned to express themselves enough to expound on their responses. Three, you might not be asking the right questions.

In this section, I am going to help you out with the latter. Here are some ways to start conversations with your kids. And, it can be effortless.

Before we begin, here’s a tip: relax. Talk to your child just like you would anyone else in your life. Don’t wait for a special occasion or difficult topic to communicate with your kids. Get into the practice of speaking to them on a regular basis so they can get in the habit as well.

Five Ways to Start Conversations With Your Child

There are of course more than five ways to talk to your kids, but these are just to get you thinking of other ways that you can accomplish your goal.

1. Discuss their day – Kids spend six or more hours in school, almost like being at work. Ask them how they did, if they accomplished anything, if they have homework and more. Children also need to decompress after a hard day of learning as well. Don’t be afraid to ask more than one question, especially if you are used to getting one-word answers.

2. Bond over a shared activity – Young kids are very visual learners. Choose an activity that not only teaches them something but also gives you time to actually communicate with one another. Consider cooking with your child one night a week or engaging in a hobby together.

3. Watch the news – Kids are concerned about what is going on around them too. They may have worries or questions. View a nightly news program which can then lead into discussing those concerns and answering their questions.

4. Ask about them – Find out what personality your child is forming as they get older. Find out what they are interested in, their likes and dislikes and their dreams.

5. Discuss family matters – It is not uncommon for parents to walk around the house as if they are the only two there. Kids can go unnoticed except for the fulfillment of their needs. Hold a family meeting and let everyone talk. Also, talk about finances, household chores, expectations and the like. Get kids involved in the running of the household. It lets them know that they are valued and that their thoughts matter.

Acknowledging Your Child’s Feelings

Every single person wants to know that they matter to someone in this world. For children, it’s their families. You have been born into a group of people who are supposed to love and nurture you. If you should matter to anyone, it will be them.

Kids may be young, but their need to be validated is no less real. Sometimes, we can sweep these feelings aside without even knowing that we are doing it. It can drive a wedge in your relationship. Keep reading to find out areas to pay attention to when talking to your kids that can be addressed right now.

Ask your child to name their feeling – You might notice that your child is grumpy when they get in the car after school. Ask them to describe what they are feeling and the situation that brought it on. They may need your help in naming the actual emotion that they are displaying.

Suspend judgment about emotions – All of us experience different emotions to situations. Children are much the same. Allow them to show their emotions but also teach them how to temper them to the proper levels. There is nothing wrong with emotions in and of themselves; it’s the actions that can result from them spinning out of control that is the real problem.

Listen – It is not just a matter of not talking when someone else is talking. Make eye contact with your child. Acknowledge that you hear what they are saying with a nod or a sound. Most importantly, keep your mind quiet. Most of us think about the next thing we are going to say instead of actively paying attention. Listen to your child with your mind as well as your ears. You may pick up on something that you might have been missing before.

Teach them the other side of the story – Without invalidating their feelings, instill empathy in your child through a scenario that helps them to consider what the other person is feeling when they are dealing with situations in their lives. That doesn’t mean that they can’t feel angry or sad about themselves; it simply puts things into perspective for them.

Wait for your child to come to you – A question may result in your child having trouble expressing their emotions. Even if you are a little worried, don’t press them if they ask for some time before you discuss the situation. Just be prepared for that time to come, especially when you don’t expect it.

Allow the storm to pass – It’s okay for parents not to be able to fix everything. Kids can be angry or sad and that’s okay. Allow them appropriate time to get over their emotions or a setback. This allows them to work things out for themselves. Let them know that you are there to support them and talk further if they need it.

Important Conversations to Have With Your Child

You may have heard it before and it is still true. As kids age, they come into contact with other influences: friends, teachers, other adults, and the media. As a parent, give them the truth about certain important issues before they learn a different explanation from another source.


Your child can’t be with you 24/7. They have to know how to take care of themselves and be secure in that knowledge when they are not with you. Lead by example. You teach them how to brush their teeth and put on their clothing. Now, help them protect themselves.

Start with the home. Even a young child needs to know their home address, telephone number and the proper names of both of their parents. This can be of great use if they are ever lost in a department store or hurt.

How about safety around the house? Kids need to learn to stay out of danger in the kitchen, bathroom, around household cleaners and even answering the telephone or the front door. These skills can protect them when they are home alone (at an older age) and as adults.

Safety on the street is more than crossing the street. All parents teach their kids how to wait for the light and watch out for cars. In today’s society, it entails being street smart. Today’s youth have to watch out for themselves against strangers, drugs, gangs and other influences that could harm them. Informing them of these dangers doesn’t take away their innocence. On the contrary, it keeps it intact so others can’t steal it.

Safety is an ongoing issue between parent and child. Don’t miss a moment that can be used as a teaching opportunity.


Obesity is an epidemic in society these days. Kids are the fastest growing population affected. This is a conversation that can happen over the dinner table. Teach kids how to eat a healthy variety of foods by introducing them to natural fruits and vegetables at every turn. Even if you don’t eat a certain food, allow your kids to sample it for themselves.

But, health also entails caring for their bodies. Looking good can lead to feeling good. Teach them about proper hygiene, care of their bodies during puberty and respecting their attributes and who they are.

Respect for themselves can lead to conversations about peer pressure and bullying. Discuss the different types of bullying and how it can affect them. Peer pressure can be easy to ignore if it comes from a stranger but when it’s a close friend, kids may not know how to handle it.


Right and wrong are fundamental teachings for children. You can’t account for every situation but you can impart to them the basics. There are gray areas to be sure, but those don’t usually come into play until kids are older and have added new dynamics to their life.

Even so, kids have questions after watching television programs. Approach each situation on a case-by-case basis. Reiterate the importance of limits and boundaries which is not to make their lives miserable but to give them a firm foundation in life.

Sex Education

It’s the conversation that most parents dread having. When do you start? How much do you say?

Begin with their bodies. Teach them the proper name for body parts, what each part is for and how they may differ from a child of the opposite sex. You will know, as a parent, when the right time is to expound further on this subject.

Kids are not shy when they have questions about things, so deal with them as they come. Use the simplest explanation that you can to convey the information. This builds a foundation that will make the conversation about actual sexual relationships between boys and girls a bit easier for them (and you) to handle when the time comes for that.

In the meantime, lead by example. The relationship between parents is the first loving relationship that kids will see – how you talk to each other, your body language and even how you show affection around your kids and others. They all paint a picture for your child.

Be as frank as you can with your kids without being crude. Moderating their television and computer time can avoid inappropriate questions or situations before your child is old enough to handle the answers.

Communicating Even When it’s Hard

It won’t always be easy to talk with your kids. But, it will always be worth it. There may come a time when kids can make it tough for you to have a conversation with them: peer pressure, friends, testing their limits, saying no to something they want. As parents, we can also put the pressure on: avoiding certain subject matter, outright disapproval of friends, silent treatment, interjecting our opinions and sugar-coating everything that happens to our child.

But, it is never too late to try and regain communication with your child. Eat humble pie if you have to from time to time. Your child needs you.

Helpful Tips for Talking to Your Child

Here are several ways that you can keep the lines of communication open with your child even when they try to shut you out.

Catch their talkative moments – Kids, especially young ones, may find it easier to speak when they are more secure – after a bath, getting tucked into bed or at dinner. Even if you have something else you want to do, take the time to listen to your child when they are ready to talk. For teens, it may work best when you are driving, so they don’t have to make eye contact during difficult conversations.

Avoid pressure to talk – It may fit your schedule to get straight to the point but not your child’s. We all need time to process a situation before we can discuss it. Give your child that same respect and consideration. The exceptions, of course, would be if it is a dangerous situation.

Talk to them, not at them – It is not a conversation when only one person is allowed to speak. Talking at someone implies that you are not interested in what they have to say, only in getting your opinion out. Talking to them means that you want to hear what they have to say in response and you are willing to listen. Their opinion matters. If you rush to speak before your child finishes, this advice may be something to think about.

Avoid saying hurtful things – Tough love doesn’t always work in certain situations. For example, if you are concerned about your adolescent son’s weight, telling him that he is fat or patting his stomach all the time is not going to inspire him. In fact, it will embarrass and even lower his self-esteem, feeling that his parents don’t love him the way he is. You may have the best of intentions but the results will often prove to be less than satisfactory. Use a healthier means of showing love and support.

Be casual in your attitude – This comes with talking to your child on a regular basis. If you feel uptight, your child will notice it and think that you don’t want to talk or don’t want to really know what they have to tell you. Even with the difficult subject matter, put yourself and your child at ease from the beginning.

Listen to your child first – Before you say anything, let them finish what they have to say in its entirety. Avoid the urge to speak up. Hold all comments until it is your turn to speak. They may need your help to flesh out their emotions but try to avoid putting words in their mouth.

Avoid hypocrisy – This is the “do as I say, not as I do” kind of behavior. Kids are not stupid. If you tell them that gossiping is wrong but you are always on the phone discussing other people, it sets a less than positive example to your kids. It can confuse younger children and make teenagers less trusting of you.

Parenting is rewarding and worthy but you will be put to the test throughout the process. Communicate with your child as often as you can. It conveys love, respect, support and concern. As a parent, you are their first teachers – and their first cheerleaders. Get to know them as you help them grow.

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