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Tips, Strategies, & Skills

A Guide to Communicating with Your Child


The “Fare Fighting Act” or “Rules of Engagement” 

• Establish guidelines to follow when emotions start to run high

• Get the kids input on the consequences - this improves buy-in from the kids and takes some pressure of the parent
• It’s most effective to set aside time to write these out when everyone feels calm and cooperative 
• Post them somewhere to help remind yourselves of your plan in heated moments

Let Them Come to You

​• Kids can often become easily overwhelmed or overstimulated and typically haven’t learned how to cope

effectively or communicate yet. Therefore, it can be really helpful and important to allow them the time and

space to cool down, regulate, relax, and process before trying to inquire and/or address them.

• Tip: Let them know you’re available if and when they want to lean on you for support in whatever way feels

good and right for them.

No One Likes to be Told How to Feel
• Avoid telling kids how they should feel
• Examples: “Don’t be sad,” “You’ll be fine,” “Don’t cry,” etc.
• This can cause kids to feel invalidated, misunderstood, etc. Validating their feelings lets them know it's okay

to feel that way, and encouraging them to tell you how they feel helps them:
– Develop a healthy acceptance of their emotions, and others, as part of the normal human experience

– The ability to understand their emotions and feel sympathy/empathy iii. Practice effective communication skills
– Feel comfortable and confident

– Maintain an open line of communication
– Tip: Check in with yourself and avoid responding based on how you would feel/experience the situation they’re telling you about or how you think they should feel.

Grow an Adult, Not an Adult Child
• Ask for their Thoughts, Feelings, and Opinions
• When we only tell kids what to do and think, they have a hard time developing agency and autonomy.

When kids aren’t offered the opportunity to be respected participants in their own lives, they aren’t offered the opportunity to develop the skillset and confidence necessary to think for themselves, problem-solve, trust themselves, and stand up for themselves. As a result, they’ll often default to whatever they think will be most pleasing and least upsetting to others.

• Get their input on things like “house rules,” curfews, and consequences. This lets them know they are valued and respected. Additionally, when kids are offered a way to “buy-in” to the things that regulate their lives, they are more likely to act accordingly, respect the regulations, understand, and learn. This also helps avoid resentment.

• Get their input to help you understand where they were coming from. This, in turn, helps you address the real issue that typically hides under the behavior/misconduct. When we don’t ask, the potential real issue goes unattended and can lead tomorrow behavioral issues/misconduct because kids don’t know how to cope or process. Therefore, this allows them that opportunity.

• Example Questions::
– I’m having a hard time understanding why you did _______. Can you help me understand?

– Can you explain to me what you might have been thinking or feeling at the time?
– I’m wondering what your thoughts are on_______?
– What do you think is an appropriate consequence? Why? How should we enforce it?

– Tip: Instead of assuming and demanding, start by asking questions to gain understanding, make a request, ask for feedback, and come to a compromise whenever possible

Look Through Their Lens, Not Yours

• Remember, an adolescent’s worldview is much smaller and less informed. Therefore, everything feels bigger! (this is a principle adults often forget!)

• Try to remember what life was like when you were their age and how issues like friends, dating, and school made you feel

• Try not to personalize or assume - they're still learning! And they're learning from you!

Play it Cool
• Avoid explosive emotional reactions
• This often insights fear in kids and prevents them from feeling comfortable sharing and being honest c. Create “fair fighting rules” to manage/prevent emotional reactions and develop more effective ways of handling disagreements and arguments (e.g., the “Take 5” rule where everyone takes some time to regulate and process separately, then once everyone feels ready, come back together to discuss. - Remember to get your kids input on these rules!)

• Try your best to be open, welcoming, and content to receive what they have to say (it’s difficult for kids to navigate between your desire for openness while simultaneously navigating big emotional reactions - it’s like touching a hot stove. You do it once and quickly learn not to do it again!)

• This doesn't mean you’re not allowed to have your own thoughts, feelings, and opinions - but consider your tact, tone, and timing, and weigh the risk v reward of addressing them with your kid.

• Tip: If you’re having trouble regulating your own emotions or are unable to avoid taking things personally, try talking through your thoughts and feeling with another adult before addressing them with your kid. Or, I personally recommend speaking to your own therapist to process those challenges and develop more effective skills that will greatly benefit your relationships and you yourself. (Remember, mental health care is synonymous with dental and physical health care - every single personal can benefit from it! Even if you don’t fully understand how it works!)

Be the Best Parent, not the Best Friend

• Having a close relationship with your child is amazing! However, kids still require parenting, and walking the fine line between friend and parent can be challenging!

• It’s the parent's job to set, model, and reinforce healthy boundaries. 

• Avoid oversharing - some stuff is better to vent about with other adults or your own therapist. Even though your kid may welcome the conversation, they typically don’t know how to cope with your feelings or their own. Be mindful of how the things you’re telling them may weigh on them. (This is a biggie when navigating divorce!! It’s the best policy to refrain from speaking negatively about the other parent as that puts the kids in a challenging situation they’re ill-equipped to manage.)

• Kids haven't been through and learned as much as we have yet. Remember above; this means everything becomes bigger! Often, kids aren’t able to separate and depersonalize things. Therefore, they may end up taking on your problems as their own and, consequently, deprioritizing their own thoughts and feelings because they don’t want to feel like a burden. ***Remember, you’re their role model for how to cope with emotions and life’s challenges. When you manage your struggles in a healthy way and set healthy boundaries, they’ll be more likely to learn and do the same!

• Avoid the guilt trip -This often doesn’t accomplish what you’d like it to and kids often internalize this and feel more burdensome

• Tip: Be there for them, but don’t expect or require them to be there for you.

The Skills & Strategies


●  Definition: Affirming someone’s experience, which lets them know you’re listening & understanding

●  Example: “That sounds really exhausting and emotionally draining!”

●  How To: Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel?

●  Tip: Reference the Emotion Wheel (see the last page) to help identify feeling words


●  Definition: A type of active listening where you demonstrate your listening and understanding by repeating back to someone what they’ve just told you in your own words

●  Example: “That fight with your friend sounds really upsetting. It makes sense you’d feel exhausted and emotionally drained”.

●  How To: Again, put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel in a similar situation, or how could you imagine someone feeling in a situation like that?

●  Tip: Avoid trying to make sense of things based on your perspective - you’re trying to understand their perspective, experience, thoughts, and feelings.


●  “How do you feel about that?”

●  “How did that make you feel?”

●  “What was that like for you?”

●  “Can you tell me more about that?”

●  “What can I do to help?”

●  “What do you need?”

●  “How can I support you?”

●  Tip: Keep in mind, asking too broad of questions can be difficult for kids, particularly youngsters, to answer. The more specific the questions, the easier! Try starting broad with the questions above and follow the breadcrumb trail they leave to gain more understanding.


Main Types of Support (in order of typical preference)
• Listening (providing a safe and comforting space for them to vent without feeling scared about how you’ll react )
• Validating (reflecting & affirming)
• Supporting (misc./whatever way they come up with, e.g., hug and a walk or cuddle)
• Advising/Perspective Giving (what would you do & thinking about things from different perspectives)
• Fix (help them figure out an answer or solution to their problem)
• Tip: Try to be a blank slate for them to talk to. This is not the time for you to process your own feelings about what they’re telling you, how you feel about it, or what it triggers in you. When adults are reactive, it creates an uncomfortable environment for kids to open up and be honest; it makes them feel like the conversation is now about the adult and ultimately causes them to feel diminished, dismissed, and invalidated, which results in them closing off and/or shutting down. 

 “I feel statements” v Acusitoty statements

  • I feel statements de-escalate conversations by placing the focus on yourself rather than placing blame on the other person

  • Accusatory statements are more likely to trigger defensiveness in the other person, which often leads to escalation

  • Example:“Ifeelunlovedwhenyoudon’tholdmyhandinpublic.”Or“Whenyouaredistractedbyyourphon during a conversation, I feel disrespected and unimportant.”

  • Utilizing facts and observations and remaining objective is most effective when communicating emotions

  • FocusonwhatyouKNOWratherthanwhatyouTHINK

  • The equation to follow: I feel ______ when you ________.


Argumentative v Exploratory Conversation

  • Thegoalofcommunicationshouldbeexploration,notinterrogation

  • The point of conversation is not to determine who is right or wrong

  • Thepointofconversationistoexpresshowasituationmadeyoufeelinordertohelptheotherpersonunderstand you and vice versa

  • An exploratory conversation helps all parties feel heard and seen, validated and affirmed - which are necessary to

    help find compromise/reconciliation/closure

Inquiring v Assuming

  • Assumingiswritinganarrativeaboutagivensituationthatemploysassumptionsinsteadoffacts

  • Assuming places meaning on the other person’s words/actions that may not have been their intent

  • When you assume,itoftenignitesdefensivenessintheotherpersonandskewsyourownperspectives

  • Assuming someone’s intent or meaning triggers defensiveness because the other person may then feel the need to

    defend themselves (react), rather than explain (respond)

  • Assumingoftenquicklyleadstoescalationandbecomesa“tit for tat”argumentratherthananexploratory


  • Replace assumptions with inquiries - when you find yourself filling in the gaps of information you don’t know is

    certain, turn those into questions.

    • Example of Narrative Writting/Assuming: “They don’t know how I feel. They always play the victim”.

    • Example of Inquiring: “I’m wondering if you’re able to understand how I feel in this situation”?

Active Listening v Inattentive Receiving

 Active listening is...

  • Being present in a conversation with someone without outside interruptions or distractions

  • Hearing and acknowledging what a person has to say, not just waiting for your turn to speak

  • Ensuring the other person is finished with their thoughts before responding

  • Is responding, not reacting (explained below)

  • Eye contact and body language let the other person know you’re engaged, actively listening, and care about what they have to say

  • Acknowledging and reflecting help you stay with the conversation, confirm understanding, and validate the other person


Inattentive Receiving is...

  • Is when you’re distracted by something outside and unrelated to the conversation, for example, cell phones,

    sports games, what's going on in the background, not being present because you’re preoccupied with what's

    going on for you, or just waiting your turn to respond and therefore focusing on your reply instead of them

  •  Is like being an inanimate object a person is talking at, not to or with

  • It is also akin to “selective listening”

  • It’s defeating, disengaging, and disrespectful


Acknowledging and Reflecting

Acknowledging is...

  • When you repeat what the person has just said in your own words to demonstrate you’re understanding of their perspective, opinions, beliefs, feelings, etc.

  • A great way to begin a response before offering your own thoughts/feelings

  • Holding yourself accountable, taking responsibility, and showing remorse

  • Example: “It makes me really sad when you don’t hold my hand in public...I feel like you don’t even want to be with”

  • Example of Acknowledgment: “I hear you don’t feel loved when I’m not affectionate towards you”


Reflecting is...

  • Like putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and using the feelings you’d feel to help demonstrate understanding

  • Like holding a mirror up - you’re reflecting the other person's feelings back at them

  • Example: “Going to the event alone made me feel really sad”

  • Example of Reflecting their feelings: “That sounds really lonely”

  1. Reflecting and acknowledging help to deep understanding and connection as well as help reduce tension and defensiveness

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