The challenge of parent-child communication amid COVID-19 - opinion

Building mutual respect during the pandemic will have lasting positive effects during the pandemic and after it is over.

WHEN IT comes to parent-child communication, there is no one size that fits all. (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
WHEN IT comes to parent-child communication, there is no one size that fits all.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
Effective communication is an essential life skill in all aspects of our lives. During this past year, COVID-19 has put a strain on the ways we ordinarily communicate. Many parents are working at home with their kids at home rather than sitting in a classroom. Lots of adjustments had to be made quickly and under duress.
I wasn’t surprised to hear the questions my clients were asking about how to deal with their children during this intense time.
From my perspective, although this year has been very stressful, it also has been a year of opportunity. After all, maintaining and/or learning healthy communication skills is a valuable goal for parents.
One parent asked “How do I communicate better with my three-year-old?” Others needed help with communicating with teenage children.
I believe that whether you are parenting a toddler, an older child or a teenager, good communication is a core part of good parenting. Building mutual respect during the pandemic will have lasting positive effects during the pandemic and after it is over.
When it comes to parent-child communication, there is no one size that fits all. Parents are individuals who have their unique personalities, emotional histories and individual temperaments. Communication styles vary as well. Nevertheless, the social science literature does highlight certain communication tips that can help parents communicate effectively.
1. Connect before you express. Parent-child communication is more effective when a parent tries first to get the child to make eye contact. Therefore, a parent should first ask the child to look at him/her or even look into his/her eyes and only then say something.
2. 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, siblings, peers, or even toward parents. Granted, some kids are more challenging and they may make you angry, but clearly, physical punishment is not effective in the short and long run.
Parents who have anger management problems may need to seek out therapy to learn how to manage their anger.
3. Begin your 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. By saying “I want,” you give a reason for compliance rather than just an order.
4. Keep it simple and clear. Whenever possible, don’t beat around the bush when you have something important to convey to your child. Be clear and concise. Both younger children and teenagers appreciate their parent’s frankness and asking direct questions such as “Where are you going?” and agreeing on a time to be home.
5. Be aware of your tone of voice. Very often it’s not what people say, but how they say it, that makes the difference. Like adults, children are more likely to be attentive if spoken to in a respectful way. Don’t ignore your kids’ sensitivities to your verbal delivery.
6. Don’t embarrass your children. In the heat of the moment, many parents have been guilty of calling their kids out in front of relatives or friends. The result can lead to resentment and embarrassment. This is especially true for a teenager who may feel downright humiliated when an angry parent calls him/her out in front of friends.
7. Give choices. As a general rule, everyone likes some control, even your kids. So, give choices whenever possible, such as “Do you want to put on your pajamas or brush your teeth first?”
8. Talk your child down. The louder your child yells, the softer you respond. Let your child ventilate 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 descend to his level, you have two tantrums to deal with. Be the adult for him/her.
9. Give advance notice. “We are leaving soon. Say bye-bye to the toys, bye-bye to the girls....”
10. Let your child know that you are interested in his day. One of the ways a parent can show a child that he/she really cares is to ask the child about how his/her day was. You’d be surprised to hear how much good communication can come out this simple question. Too often, busy parents, struggling with their own stress, overlook the mood status of their children.
11. Advice for parent-teenager communication. Remember, teens are forming both emotional and physical identities and independence, so be sensitive to disagreements and respect their boundaries. Nevertheless, be clear and direct about what you believe is an appropriate behavioral standard.
12. Shared activities with children. Kids are the most open for quality communication when you play a sport or a game with them. Pick any activity your child likes, such as soccer, basketball, Lego, or playing with dolls.
13. Tell your children that you love them. Regardless of the child’s age, they never get tired of hearing this.
Remember, raising children is a gift and can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do in your life.
Good communication with your children is a goal that is worth your daily attention. It has lasting positive benefit for both parent and child. 
The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana and global online accessibility.
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