Mistakes to Avoid When Talking to Kids

Biggest parent-child communication mistakes and how to avoid them

father scolding son
Get down to your child's level when you need to discuss something with him. Ojo Images/Getty Images

When it comes to talking to kids, there are some definite "dos" and "don'ts" to consider. To make parent-child communication a regular, easy, and effective experience in your home, avoid these common mistakes.

What You Should Avoid Doing

1. Not giving your full attention. This is particularly important if you are discussing something important or serious and not simply catching up on your day. Turn off cell phones, TV, and other devices. (Recent research shows that kids are aware that parents often ignore them and focus on their cell phones and other devices.) Don't talk to siblings at the same time, eliminate background noise, and find a quiet and peaceful place to talk.

2. Not having their full attention when you speak. Make sure your eyes are connected your child's and that you are both fully paying attention to each other before you have your talk.

3. Not asking specific questions. Asking a child, "How was school?" will likely give you a response like, "Fine." But if you ask him, "What was the most interesting thing that happened in school today?" or "What was the silliest thing you saw today?" you're likely to get more detailed responses.

4. Avoid, ignore, and then unleash. We've all done it--let something go that's bothering us or push a problem aside because we have too much going on. The problem is that avoiding something can often make something worse. And because we parents are only human, we may blow up at a child in frustration. To avoid that unpleasant scenario, be sure to address a problem early when you are calm and collected and can discuss possible solutions in a thoughtful and pleasant manner.

5. Lecture, talk too much or over-explain. Keep things simple and short, especially when talking with younger children.

6. Towering over kids. When you physically stand over your child, you create a great physical imbalance that's intimidating, especially if you're upset, annoyed, or angry with him. Get down to his level and talk to him in a calm and even manner, even if you are unhappy about something he did and disciplining your child.

7. Being confrontational. Kids are much more likely to listen and be receptive if you are discussing an issue or a problem in a "let's figure it out together" type of approach and tone rather than in an aggressive or threatening manner.

8. Criticize or insult. Keep your language positive. If you show anger or insult your child, she will not want to share anything with you the next time, whether it's a problem or something happy. Remember that it's important for you to express your opinion in a respectful manner, even if you disagree, even if your child has an idea or opinion that you think is silly or something that you do not agree with. 

9. Yell and lose your cool. Get your emotions under control before having your talk. If you're angry about something, be sure to calm down fully before engaging in a conversation with your child. Yelling is not only disrespectful and teaches your child that aggression is okay, but it loses its effectiveness over time.

10. Not letting kids explain or finish what they're saying. You wouldn't want someone to interrupt you if you were trying to explain something or express your opinion. Show your child the same courtesy and respect that you would like for yourself. Teach her how to be a good listener by giving her the time she needs to tell you what she's thinking and feeling.

11. Not thanking kids for sharing. It's important for kids to feel like opening up is a good thing. Remember to thank them for talking to you about something, especially if it was difficult for them to discuss.

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