5 Easy Ways to Talk to Your Kids More Effectively and Empathetically

By Alison Bell

Recently I downloaded the book Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!  by Michael J. Bradley onto my Kindle. I was feeling exhausted and at wit’s end by my 14-year-old’s mood swings and obsessive attachment to his iPhone.  While I found the book’s aggregate message comforting – It’s not your fault, mom; teens simply can’t be expected to act like sane people —I didn’t feel I got the tips I was looking for on how to handle my son.

Next, I talked to Hillsides chief program officer Stacey Roth. She’s ushered in a new approach to working with clients at Hillsides called Trauma Informed Care (TIC). TIC is based on supreme amounts of empathy and sensitivity and keys into the idea that people often act the way they do because of the trauma they’ve experienced. While most of the clients Hillsides treats have experienced extreme trauma and loss, the truth is, almost all of us, our teens included, have suffered some form of trauma in our lives.

After talking to Stacey, I was ready to download Bradley’s next book, Yes, Your Parents Are Crazy!  because I realized that part of the problem between me and my son actually might be me!  (Hard as it is to admit.)

Here, using TIC as her guide, Stacey offers five tips that will help improve communication with your children and reduce tension:

Tip # 1:  Turn a no into a yes. Research shows that telling a child what you want rather than what you don’t  want is much more effective, says Stacey. Instead of admonishing your child, “Don’t jump on the bed,” instead try, “Beds are for sleeping on. Would you like to go outside and jump around?”  According to Stacey, “When a child first hears no, there is a natural temptation to do exactly the opposite because children like to test the limits and rebel. This technique takes the power struggle away.”

TIC Tip7_WSBTip # 2: Speak softly.  It often feels like if we don’t yell, our kids won’t pay attention to us. But the opposite is true, says Stacey. Kids tune out when we raise our voices. What makes them perk up their ears is whispering or a low, quiet voice because they have to strain to hear what’s being said. With this extra effort and concentration to hear you, your words sink in.

Tip # 3:  Master the art of repetition. Being heard is a two-way street. Often our children don’t feel they’re being listened to. Then they dig in their heels even deeper. The key, says Stacey, is to repeat their words back to them. In doing so, you are showing you hear and acknowledge their feelings. For example, if your child says, “You’re mean! You never let me watch TV,” you could respond by saying, “I hear you. You feel I’m mean because I don’t let you watch more TV.” This simple validation of your child’s emotions will help deescalate the conflict and open the door to a productive discussion.

Tip # 4:  Avoid the blame game. If a problem crops up, for example, your child’s teacher emails you about your child’s behavior, it’s all too easy to blurt out, “What did you do or what’s wrong with you?” A better tactic, according to Stacey, is to suspend judgment and ask, “What happened?” This objective phrase does not place any blame and will save your child from feeling attacked. This preserves your relationship with your child, cuts down on tension, and will help get to the root of the problem quickly.

Tip # 5:  Let kids have their space. If your child ignores you or says he or she doesn’t want to talk about something, don’t push it. Instead, say something like, “I understand you don’t want to talk right now but I’m always here for you and willing to listen.” You are therefore giving your child the space to come back to you, which in all likelihood, he or she eventually will.

I have found these tips helpful, and hope you will too. Best of all, the next book I download on my Kindle can be a novel instead of “Yes, Your Teen and You are Both Crazy!”


Alison Bell serves as the communications and development associate in Hillsides advancement services and is an author and writing instructor.

One Comment on “5 Easy Ways to Talk to Your Kids More Effectively and Empathetically

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