Improving communication starts with listening

Published 6:00 pm Saturday, September 17, 2011

QUESTION: How can I improve communication with my child in a difficult situation?

ANSWER:  Our real power as a parent or grandparent is our emotional connection with our child. Difficult situations are often valuable learning opportunities, if we are able to be honest and respectful as we work through them.  It helps a great deal to have a problem-solving pattern to rely on regardless of the current specific challenge.  In order to stay firm and friendly, we have to be in charge of our thoughts and reactions.

Before we make decisions, we need to listen to our children.  Sit or stand on the same level with your child at a comfortable distance.

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Take your cue from your child.  Use the 80/20 formula: you do 20 percent of the talking. Nod your head to show that you are listening.

Put yourself in the place of your child. While you’re listening, remember yourself when you were the age of your child.  The goal is to honor your child’s dignity by reflecting his or her feelings and thoughts, not your emotions. When we take time to listen, we will choose the better strategy in handling the situation.

An effective problem-solving pattern has six steps:

Step one: Together describe what has happened as factually as possible.

Step two: Identify the primary feelings the situation has caused.  (It is helpful to understand that primary feelings are fear, confusion, embarrassment, anxiety, and inadequacy.  Anger is the feeling that follows these first emotions.)

Step three:  Talk about why the situation is a problem.

Step four: Be clear about what you and your child want to have happen, instead of the difficult situation that has just occurred. (Take time to actually describe your “best case” scenarios.)

Step five: You, as the adult, have the responsibility to define the bottom line non-negotiable.  What is realistic and necessary, considering your child’s age and experience?

Step six: Finally, what is negotiable?  Every situation has some room for creativity and choice.

Within the required boundaries, set by you or society, help your child think about his or her options.

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528.

For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out