Ultimate Guide to Parenting Communication

Parent child talk.
Learning how to communicate with your child can foster healthy relationships. See more parenting pictures.
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Being a parent is a full-time job -- and probably the hardest job you'll ever have to do. The truth is that parents play a pivotal role in shaping the people their children will become, and being a parent means also being a teacher, role model, protector and confidante.

And just like with any other successful relationship, communication is the key to developing a healthy relationship between you and your child. Unfortunately, if you have to tell your child a thousand times to do something or can't seem to nail down a good method of discipline, it's possible that a lack of effective communication is the real problem [source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services].


Learning to communicate with your child is important to creating a stable and loving home life (and to preserving your sanity). Not only will day-to-day activities like homework, meals and bedtimes go much more smoothly, but good communication may also improve your child's long-term health and development. Studies show that children who don't feel that they have a good relationship with their parents are more likely to have low self-esteem, difficulties in school and emotional problems, and they're at a higher risk for using drugs and engaging in risky sexual behavior [source: Mental Health America].

But before you go calling in the Super Nanny, take a deep breath and relax. With some simple tips and advice, you can improve the ways you communicate with your child and start to build a strong and healthy relationship. Read the next page to learn about the importance of being consistent with your child and how best to do it.


How to Be Consistent with Children

If you want to teach your child good behavior, consistency really is key. Unfortunately, the hardest part about being consistent is that you have to be consistent constantly -- hour to hour, day to day, and week to week. And between work and homework, dinner and laundry, trying to be consistent with rules and discipline can be downright exhausting.

But the truth is, if you can't follow the rules and the consequences you've set up, your children won't either. A good first step in being consistent is to try to focus on one key behavior (or misbehavior) that you want to address. Maybe you want your kids to share better or to stop calling each other names -- focus your attention on this behavior and reward (or punish) your children accordingly [source: Family Education].


Other important tips to help you be consistent are to:

  • Stay positive -- Keep calm, don't yell and make sure that you reward your children for their good behavior. Remember that the only way to reverse negative behaviors is to make rules that you stick to and enforce.
  • Be patient -- Even though you may want quick results, people don't change overnight. It took time for your children to master their misbehaviors, and it will take time for them to change them, too.
  • Expect resistance -- Your children are going to test you. You've tried to enforce rules with them before, but you haven't followed through, so expect them to test the waters. Change can be difficult, and your children are not likely to embrace your new rules right away.
  • Stick with it -- To help you stay consistent in the long term, remind yourself why consistency is important -- it shows your children the behaviors and values that are important to you and teaches them self-discipline [source: Family Education].

Over time, your child will learn what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable if you remain consistent. Go to the next page to learn how to conduct a successful family meeting.


How to Conduct a Family Meeting

If you're looking for a way to open up the lines of communication in your family, regular family meetings are a good place to start. Family meetings establish a safe and nonjudgmental place for family members to discuss problems and to make decisions, and they can bring a family closer together as you learn to work collectively and cooperatively.

The first step in setting up your family meetings is to figure out a time and day each week that everyone can get together. Establish a set length of time for your meetings as well, and stick to it -- this encourages your family to make the meeting a priority and shows that you value having this time together each and every week [source: Fetsch].


The important thing to remember in your family meetings is that all family members should be given an opportunity to talk and participate. Even the youngest members of your family should be involved in any decisions or discussions that take place. Setting some ground rules for your meetings is a good idea. Some good rules include having one person talk at a time, discussing one topic at a time and changing topics only when everyone agrees to do so [source: Zolten].

Creating an agenda for each family meeting helps your family focus and gets the conversation rolling. Post an "Agenda List" in a specified place in your house, and encourage family members to add topics or issues they would like to discuss at the meeting to the list throughout the week [source: Zolten]. Before you begin discussing the topics on the "Agenda List," start each meeting by highlighting the positive things that each family member did that week.

Family meetings are a good way to bring your family together, and they can really help foster open communication among family members. Read the next page to find out how to have those dreaded important talks with your kids.


Having Important Talks with Kids

The truth is that when it comes to discussing important issues with their kids, parents don't do it nearly enough. The key to having any important talk with your child -- whether it's about puberty, sex, drugs or alcohol -- is to have it before your child is in a situation in which he or she needs to make a decision. And the bottom line is that many children are having these experiences way earlier than their parents think [source: Oprah.com].

Knowledge is power. And it's your responsibility as a parent to give your children the information they need to guide them into adulthood. No one is saying that having the talk about the birds and the bees with your kids is easy, but if you want your child to make safe and healthy choices, it's time to start talking.


An important part of talking with your kids is to make them feel as safe and comfortable as possible. Not only do you want to give them the information they need, but you also want to let them know that they can ask you any questions they want -- and that they can continue the conversation with you at any time. Staying calm and keeping the conversation casual is crucial. If it sounds like you're giving a lecture, your child may hesitate to come to you in the future [source: Oprah.com].

If you find yourself struggling to have an important talk with your child, do some research and practice what you want to say beforehand. Make sure that you have all the right information to discuss a topic, and practice some ways to initiate the conversation and the key points you want to address [source: KidsHealth].

Whether you're ready to talk with them or not, your child will be faced with some difficult experiences as they grow and develop. They're going to get their information somewhere -- and it might as well be accurate information from the person who loves and cares about them the most.

For more information, see the resources on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Family Education. "How to Be More Consistent with Your Children." Pearson Education, Inc. (Jan. 12, 2010) http://life.familyeducation.com/behavioral-problems/punishment/42963.html?page=1
  • Fetsch, R.J. and B. Jacobson. "Manage Anger Through Family Meetings." Colorado State University Extension. 2009. (Jan. 13, 2010)http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/consumer/10249.html
  • KidsHealth. "Disciplining Your Child." (Jan. 12, 2010)http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/discipline.html
  • KidsHealth. "Talking to Your Child About Puberty." (Jan. 13, 2010) http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/growing/talk_about_puberty.html#
  • Mental Health America. "Back to School: Parent-Child Communication." 2010. (Jan. 13, 2010) http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/get-info/children-s-mental-health/back-to-school-fast-facts-parent-child-communication/back-to-school-parent-child-communication
  • Oprah.com. "How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex." CNN.com. May 8, 2009. (Jan. 13, 2010)http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/personal/05/08/o.having.the.sex.talk/index.html
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Behave Yourself!" 2001. (Jan. 12, 2010)http://family.samhsa.gov/set/behave.aspx
  • Zolten, Kristin M.A. and Nicholas Long, PhD. "Family Meetings." Center for Effective Parenting. 1997. (Jan. 12, 2010)http://www.parenting-ed.org/handout3/Discipline%20and%20Intervention%20Strategies/family_meetings.htm