Growth and Development

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Healthy Communication With Your Child

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Healthy communication with your child makes the tough parts of parenting, like disciplining your child, much easier and more effective. Remember, listening to your child is just as important as talking to them. Here are communication tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Healthy Communication Is Important

Healthy communication is important because it helps your child

  • Feel cared for and loved.

  • Feel safe and not alone with their worries.

  • Learn to tell you directly what they feel and need using their words.

  • Learn how to manage their feelings safely so that they are less likely to act out.

  • Talk to you openly.

  • Learn to listen to you.

Building Blocks of Healthy Communication

Here are a few important ways to build healthy communication.

  • Be available. Make time in everyone's busy schedule to stop and talk about things. Even 10 minutes a day without distractions for you and your child to talk can make a big difference in forming good communication habits. Those few minutes a day can be of great value.

  • Be a good listener. Ask your child about their feelings on a subject. Repeat what you are hearing to be sure that you understand. You don't have to agree with what your child is saying to be a good listener. Sharing their thoughts with you helps your child calm down, so later they can listen to you.

  • Show empathy. If your child is sad or upset, a gentle touch or hug may let them know that you understand those sad or bad feelings. Do not tell your child what they think or feel. Be sure not to minimize these feelings by saying things like, "It's silly to feel that way." Their feelings are real and should be respected.

  • Be a good role model. Use words and tones in your voice that you want your child to use. Your tone should match your message. For example, if you laugh when you say, "No, don't do that," the message will be confusing. Name your own feelings. When parents use feeling words, such as, "It makes me feel sad when you won't do what I ask you to do," children learn to do the same.

Keys to Healthy Communication

Do

  • Give clear, age-appropriate directions such as, "When we go to the store I expect you to be polite and stay with me." Praise your child whenever you can. Tell them, "I like the way you took care of that," or "You're listening really well right now."

  • Stay calm when you communicate your feelings.

  • Be truthful.

  • Listen carefully to what your child says.

  • Model what you want your child to do—practice what you preach.

  • Make sure that when you are upset with your child, they know that it is their behavior that is the problem, not the child themselves.

Don't

  • Give broad, general instructions such as, "You'd better be good!"

  • Name call or blame. "I don't like the way you are acting," works; "You are bad," doesn't.

  • Yell or threaten.

  • Lie or tell your child half-truths.

  • Use silence to express strong feelings. Long silences frighten and confuse children.

Discipline Is Not Punishment

How do you change a child's behavior? Make sure to teach your child what positive behavior is and praise them when they behave the way you want them to. Focus on the things they do right and they will be less likely to do things you do not want them to do.

At every age, your child needs you to calmly and clearly explain what behavior you expect from them, like never hitting or using other forms of violence, and what the consequences will be if they act inappropriately. Then, if your child does misbehave, follow through on the consequences you and they have already discussed. This way, you are not reacting purely out of anger or frustration.

Keeping Calm

Here are a few ways to calm yourself when you feel stressed before you try to talk with your child.

  • Take a few deep breaths very slowly.

  • Wait 5 minutes before starting to talk to your child.

  • Try to label what you are feeling, like "disappointment." Be sure that it is appropriate for your child.

  • Share your feelings of frustration with your partner or a friend.

  • Deal only with what's happening in this moment, and not things that came before.

  • Seek professional help if you feel that you have lost control.

For More Information

American Academy of Pediatrics

www.aap.org and www.HealthyChildren.org

Disclaimer

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

In all aspects of its publishing program (writing, review, and production), the AAP is committed to promoting principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.