5 ways to make difficult conversations with your children easier
Recently your son has been hanging out with a new friend every day after school. One day, when he doesn’t come home for dinner, you decide to call the house where he says he’s been hanging out. His friend’s mom answers the phone and is surprised to hear you ask about him being there because her son has told her they were hanging out at your house every day.
Your daughter brings home her report card. Her grades have declined since the beginning of school and are now at an all-time low. You have casually asked your daughter about her lowering grades, but she always responds by saying everything is okay at school and has no explanation for her declining grades.
While doing your regular check of your son’s phone, you find that he has been looking at inappropriate pictures.
These are only a few examples of the many types of situations when a parent needs to have a difficult conversation with their child. As much as we teach and prepare our children to make positive decisions, there will still be times they make a poor choice or encounter difficult situations and you’ll need to talk with your child about those serious topics. Start a continual dialogue with your child at a young age, discussing important topics. Doing so will help both you and your child feel more comfortable and prepared when difficult situations arise. Here are 5 tips to help these difficult conversations be calm and productive.
1. Plan what you want to discuss
It can seem less awkward to talk to your child without preparation, especially if a negative situation came up suddenly. However, you will convey your thoughts, values, and emotions more clearly if you have planned ahead of time what you want to say to your child. Expect to be flexible based on what your child contributes to the conversation, but you should have an outline of what you want to express and possible rules and consequences based on the situation. As a part of this preparation, include your spouse, and/or any other parents or guardians in what you plan to discuss. If possible, they should be a part of the conversation as well, but if they can’t be there make sure all adults involved agree on what will be said and any changes that may occur as a result, before you have the difficult conversation with your child.
2. Schedule a time to talk or do an activity with your child
Don’t catch your child off-guard when you want to discuss something important. When they know in advance when you’ll be talking and what you’ll be talking about, they’ll be more likely to respond calmly. It also gives them time to plan what they can add to the conversation. For many kids, scheduling an activity that promotes discussion, such as going on a hike or playing basketball, is a more productive way to stimulate discussion rather than sitting down in a room talking face-to-face. Explore the best option to help your child feel most comfortable when having a difficult conversation.
3. Use the skill of Effective Communication
The steps of Effective Communication help you to express your point of view calmly, encourage participation from your child and help him/her feel understood.
The steps also give reminders for important nonverbal cues such as maintaining eye contact and speaking in a calm voice. Since there will be many difficult conversations while your child is growing up, it may also be helpful to establish basic rules when having a family discussion during a neutral time. This could include waiting until a person is done speaking to state your point of view or using a talking stick to establish whose turn it is to speak. Behavioral skills that have been learned ahead of time are beneficial to encouraging everyone to respond appropriately when difficult situations arise.
Download the steps of Effective Communication.
4. Remove distractions and interruptions
Before having a difficult conversation with your child, turn both of your phones on silent and place them where they can’t be seen. In today’s world of technology where we have constant contact with email, social media, and texting, it has become increasingly difficult to discuss important topics without getting interrupted. Pausing a conversation to respond to someone else can leave the other party feeling unimportant. Also, meet somewhere away from other family members so they can’t overhear or interrupt the conversation.
5. Be prepared to listen and receive input/feedback
Have an open mind when communicating with your child. You may not fully understand your child’s point of view or all the factors that could be affecting your child. The conversation doesn’t need to be long, but your child needs time to talk and to be heard. When given the time to talk and explain, children are often very reasonable in admitting what they did wrong or could have done differently and any consequences that need to be given. Remember to use praise and empathy to validate your child’s feelings. Only when your child feels comfortable and validated can you find solutions that everyone can agree on.