Science-backed Tips to Improve How You Communicate With Your Child

It’s a scary time to be a parent.

Information is too easily available, psychos abound, and children don’t always open up when they should. Indeed, trying to get information out of children can be a daunting task, forcing you to make do with a few crumbs of information.

Yet learning to communicate effectively with your child matters. Effective communication sets the foundation for future parent/child relationships and makes the parenting journey much easier.

A commonly accepted belief among researchers in child development is that the manner in which parents communicate has a great impact in children’s development in childhood years and beyond.

Many research studies suggest that choosing the right discussion styles can make any kid open up.

There is much consensus that authoritarian parenting discourages open communication, children’s creative thrust and reflection. (You can read about some of these studies here and here).

Authoritarian parenting is when parents seek to control, shape and orient their child’s behaviour in accordance with predetermined norms. Such parents expect their child to blindly obey their “commands”.

Although some studies have found that children raised by authoritarian parents get into less trouble and are less aggressive than those whose parents are uninvolved or permissive, other studies have found that these children could grow up to have poor social skills and are more likely to suffer from depression and related issues (some of the studies on the impact of authoritarian parenting can be accessed here and here).

By contrast, much evidence suggests that authoritative parenting encourages greater communication. While parents who use this parenting style set strict boundaries, they are willing to adjust these boundaries to better respond to different situations.

Authoritative parents encourage discussion, explain their decisions and are more open to their children’s points of view. Moreover, kids whose parents are authoritative have been found to behave as well as kids raised by authoritarian parents.

Evidence suggests that children raised by authoritative parents are more competent, less likely to engage in drug-use (you can read about the studies here and here), more self-reliant, and less aggressive.

Developing positive parent/child communication patterns has multiple benefits.

  • First, it encourages the creation of close bonds which are more likely to last through the childhood years and beyond.
  • Second, positive communication helps you understand what’s going on in your child’s mind.
  • Third, positive communication helps your child understand the boundaries he/she is expected to respect.
  • Fourth, maintaining open communication channels signals to your child that you are available when he/she needs you.
9 tips to foster communication between you and your child

1) Grab “little pieces of time”. Although many parents would love to be more present for their children, they just don’t have the time. All hope is not lost though! New studies suggest that “little pieces of time” matter too.

Much evidence suggests that the quality of the time spent with your kids is more important than the quantity. SO make time to speak with your children over dinner or in the car. Ask the right questions (no, “how was your day” is not the right question!).

2) Talk about yourself. Talking about yourself encourages children to talk about themselves. Talk about your day at work. Talk about what you did during the day. Talk about films, about books you’re reading…

3) Watch what you say. When it comes to communicating with children, “how you say” is just as important as “what you say”. Much of children’s emotional development occurs in childhood. In other words, a child raised in a particular environment learns to react depending on what he/she has been exposed to (positivity, fearfulness, resilience, etc.). For instance, negative talk can lead to negative attitudes among children.

Further reading: Positive affirmations for kids: 6 things you should know

4) Listen to the “big things and the little things”. Listening, really listening is serious business and it’s not so easy to do. One of the reasons behind poor communication is the fact that we mostly listen without really listening.

When it comes to attentive listening, I’m as guilty as the next person! Sometimes I drift off when my son is talking because my mind is on the list of things I still have to do… Or when my daughter asks “why would you respond with ‘yeah’?”, it hits me that I really wasn’t listening! Yet we can learn so much by listening. Really listening.

Listening enables you to hear the things that are said out loud and those that are left unspoken. It enables you to know what questions to ask. It gives you an insight into what’s really going on.

5) Choose the right “when and how”. Not all discussions can take place in the car or over dinner or when everyone is present. Choose the right when and how according to what you need to discuss.

6) Establish a family tradition. Family traditions can be a great way to encourage bonding between family members. Effective family traditions are those in which each family member can participate. The Book of New Family Traditions has many ideas of traditions to pick from.

Further reading: Why establishing family traditions is important

7) Foster independence. Raising kids is about preparing them for their future lives as adults. How you communicate with your child can help him/her become more independent.

Help your child brainstorm. Teach him/her that there are always multiple options. Allow your child to practice decision-making.

Further reading: Fifteen days to independent kids: a practical evidence-based guide

8) Be “democratic”. Allow your children to express their opinions, even when you don’t agree with them. Many parental decisions are based on your experience of childhood or on predefined norms that dictate how children should act.

Be willing to examine the reasons behind your decisions and adjust them if need be.

9) Share your expectations. There is evidence to suggest that children whose parents have high expectations (neither too high nor too low) are more likely to meet these expectations.

So what does this teach us? That parents must not only have great expectations, they must also communicate those expectations to their child and set limits and consequences to guide their child’s behaviour.

If you would like more help communicating with your child, check out my book review section to find a good fit for you.