Establishing Healthy Parent/Child Communication
When it comes to the tween and teen years, children gradually share less with their parents and, at the same time, become less interested in what parents have to share with them. Sure, they are growing up and becoming more independent, but parental guidance, wisdom and limit-setting tactics are still important and necessary for fostering healthy development during these formidable years.
How can parents ensure that they remain a part of their child’s emotional and social development as that child moves into the tween and teen years? This month’s column will focus on the importance of establishing open and honest communication during the early years as a way to help parents remain supportive as their child grows and develops.
Good Communication Requires Respect
Strong parent-child communication rests upon respect. There is no rule for how best to do it — it all depends upon the attitude with which communications are offered and the context within which they occur. Children will confide in parents when they feel their parents have blended parental responsibility with an empathic and dignifying attitude. (For more on effectively communicating with your child, please see our article, “Building Strong Parent-Child Communication,” at lucydanielscenter.org/page/building-strong-parent-child-communication.)
Straight Talk Starts Early
Conversations with children that develop over time — and that parents return to — tend to be more helpful than a one-time sit-down talk. Healthy conversations about sexual development, for instance, evolve over time depending on a child’s age and developmental level, but ideally begin during the early childhood years when children first become interested in sexuality. (For more on how to talk about the facts of life with young children, see our article, “Explaining the Facts of Life,” at lucydanielscenter.org/page/explaining-the-facts-of-life.)
If a young child picks up on her parents’ avoidance of certain topics, she may become less likely to bring up questions, concerns or ideas as they evolve over time. All children have questions and ideas about various topics over the course of their childhood. When possible answers to these questions are left to a child’s imagination, misconceptions often form. A strong and confident child (and teenager) begins as a well-informed child armed with knowledge. How each family chooses to talk about various social topics is personal, but keeping matters open rather than labeling them as off-limits reassures teens that they have a safe and understanding place to take their questions.
Encourage Healthy Friendships and Choices
You can remain involved in your growing child’s social life by maintaining open communication about her friendships — the types of friends she chooses and how she handles conflict and disagreement, for example. Does she feel comfortable telling friends when she disagrees with them, or does she go along with them to avoid conflict? Does she feel comfortable seeking your help, even if that means coming home from a party early? A teenager’s ability to confidently make good choices — and avoid being caught in uncomfortable predicaments — stems in part from an ability to assess a situation, confront conflict (by doing what she feels is right even if it upsets others) and turn to her parents for help when it is needed.
Confront Special Problems
Sometimes special problems make communication with children difficult. In these situations, it is better to face and deal with these issues before adolescence. For a sampling of special issues that can complicate communication, visit lucydanielscenter.org and search for the following articles: “Depression in Childhood,” “Building Mental Muscles to Overcome Childhood Anxieties” and “Does My Child Have Asperger’s Syndrome?”
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families.