“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce
bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids.” – Bill Cosby
often come into my private practice asking for help on how to manage and
communicate with their children. While there are thousands of books out there
and many philosophies about parenting, there is some collective wisdom from the
child development field on the best ways to communicate with your children to
maximize a positive result.
Connect before you express
communication is more effective when a parent tries first to get the child to
make eye contact. So the first thing is for the parent to ask the child to look
at him or her in the eyes, then say what he or she has to say. Eye contact is
the critical factor.
Don’t use physical punishment
The parent who
regularly resorts to physical punishment can be guaranteed of one thing: raising
a child who will most likely use the same approach with others, be it siblings
or peers or even toward the parents. Invariably, the child who is hit regularly
by a parent will suffer from low self-esteem that literally can last a lifetime.
Instead, teach children what they did wrong by talking to them. From the time
they are young, make sure they understand the rules and repeat them regularly
and explain why they are important to you.
Be aware of your tone of voice
It’s not usually what people say but how they say it that makes the difference
in being heard correctly. Like adults, children are more likely to be attentive
if spoken to in a respectful way. Don’t take your kids’ sensitivities to your
verbal delivery for granted.
Don’t embarrass your children
In the heat of
the moment, all parents have been guilty of calling their kids out in front of
relatives and friends or using name-calling or even cursing designed to sting
and get the child’s attention. The result can be resentment and
This is especially true for a teenager who may feel
downright humiliated when an angry parent calls him or her out in front of
friends. It is always a good idea to pull the child aside, go to a private space
away from others and then say what you want to say.
Keep it simple and
Whenever possible, don’t beat around the bush when you have something
important to convey to your child. Be clear and concise.
children and teenagers appreciate their parents being frank and asking direct
questions such as “where are you going?” and agreeing on a time to be
Ask the child to repeat back what you stated
parent-child disputes occur because of misunderstandings.
“Oh, I thought
you said I can come home at 11 p.m.” A simple good rule in communicating is to
say what you have to say and then immediately ask your child to repeat back what
they heard you say to be sure you were heard correctly.
directives with “I want.”
Instead of “Get down,” say “I want you to get
down.” Instead of “Let Rivka have a turn,” say “I want you to let Rivka have a
turn now.” This works well with children who want to please but don’t like being
ordered around. By saying “I want,” you give a reason for compliance rather than
just an order.
“When you get your teeth brushed,
then we’ll begin the story.” “When your homework is finished, then you can watch
TV.” “When,” which implies that you expect obedience, works better than using
“if,” which suggests that the child has a choice when you don’t mean to give him
As a general rule, everyone likes some control, even
your kids. So give choices whenever possible, such as “Do you want to put your
pajamas on or brush your teeth first?”
Write down reminders
pre-teens and teenagers, don’t like to be constantly reminded. They feel like
they are being nagged. Instead, parents can leave humorous notes such as “Don’t
forget to put the dishes in the dishwasher, we have the prime minister coming
over this evening.” This can put a little humorous spin in parental
Talk the child down
The louder your child yells, the softer
you should respond. Allow your child to let off steam while you interject timely
comments: “I understand” or “Can I help?” Sometimes just having a caring
listener available will wind down the tantrum. If you come in at his level, you
have two tantrums to deal with. Be the adult for him.
Give advance notice
“We are leaving soon. Time to put your toys away and put your jacket
Let your child know that you are interested in his day
One of the
ways a parent can show a child that he really cares is to ask, “How was your
day?” You’d be surprised about how much good communication can come out of a
conversation after asking this question. Too often, busy parents, struggling
with their own stress, overlook the mood status of their children.
are never too old to be reminded that their parents love them and are proud of
The writer is a marital, child and adult
psychotherapist practicing in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.