Communities that Care: How to improve parent-teen communication

April 2, 2014 

If you’d like to improve communication with your son or daughter, the best time to start is now.

Your relationship with your child is key, so that’s a good place to begin. Enjoy special times together doing things you both like, even if it’s as simple as taking the dog for a walk. Ask open-ended questions to find out what is important to them, what they are worried about or what they are interested in. Focus on what they are saying and listen with an open mind. Some parents find that car rides are a great time to connect, so turn off the radio, cell phone and other technology devices and have a conversation with your captive audience who may be more willing to talk to you in this setting.

But before you broach those difficult topics, develop your conversational skills by listening without interrupting, avoiding lectures or judgmental statements, and being honest but kind. When you are able to convey the message that you care and are concerned, young people are usually more responsive. One way to start an important conversation is to ask your son or daughter questions, such as:

• I know that some kids are drinking earlier than ever. Because this is happening, is it OK if we talk a little?

• Do you know kids who drink? How do you think kids who drink are affected? How do you think it might impact their friends and family?

• Do you think there are times when it’s OK for kids your age to drink alcohol? If yes, why is that? If not, what might you say if someone asked you to drink?

It’s important that you refrain from becoming angry when you hear things you don’t like. Strive to be a role model so your child learns how to handle his or her own anger, and you don’t want to shut down the conversation. Agree to disagree, and apologize if you make a mistake. If the conversation becomes too heated, calmly tell your child that you need to take a break and will discuss the topic at a later time when you feel less emotional.

When there are conflicts, problem solve by stating that you would like to come to an agreement that both of you can live with. As a parent, you may have some non-negotiable beliefs and rules, but try to be flexible about some things. Brainstorm ideas and ask your son or daughter what they think would be a good

Two books by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish can help you perfect your communication skills: “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” and “How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk.”

It’s not always easy to communicate with young people, but the results can be very rewarding.

Laraine Bortner is an elementary school counselor in State College Area School District. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

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