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Parent-child communication

The importance of communication

Communication is essential because it allows us to express ourselves, identify our thoughts, emotions and needs and share information with those around us.

Communication helps foster positive relationships between family members. An effective way to foster positive, warm family relationships is to listen and talk with your child on a regular basis, even during difficult times. By doing so, you are also teaching your child the interpersonal skills needed to communicate well with others. Children who have the ability to express their feelings and needs and feel heard and understood by those around them will feel more competent and confident in general.

How can I encourage communication with my child?

  • Listen to your child and their needs (whether expressed verbally or not)
  • Identify your own emotions, experiences and needs
  • Listen attentively to your child (e.g., stand next to or at the same level as your child)
  • Have regular conversations with your child (e.g., about their daily life or interests)
  • Ask your child questions
  • Rephrase your child’s words to make sure you understand and show that you are paying attention to what they are saying
  • Seek their advice and opinion (e.g., regarding certain issues that involve the family)

Communicating well with your child helps strengthen your parent-child relationship.

Reflection exercise

The difference between two messages

The content of the message conveyed is not the only element to consider when communicating with others. How you deliver it is also important! There are two main components to communication: verbal communication (e.g., words spoken, tone of voice, etc.) and non-verbal communication (e.g., facial expressions, gestures and body positioning). It is important to pay attention to both of these aspects when communicating with others, including your child. Children are particularly sensitive to facial expressions, tone of voice and body language when communicating.

Attitudes and behaviours of successful communication

We invite you to take a few minutes to think about the attitudes and behaviours that you feel are important in order to effectively communicate with your child in a way that they will understand.

 

Communicate effectively

“I notice that it’s easy for me to have good communication with my children when I’m doing well, but it’s the opposite when I’m feeling anxious and helpless.” -Adela

It can sometimes be hard during particularly difficult or stressful times to communicate well with your family and friends. That is why it’s important to know which attitudes and behaviours can help you communicate effectively, even in difficult moments. During communication, there is always a receiver (person who listens) and a sender (person who speaks). Effective communication involves simple and clear expression by the speaker and active listening by the listener.

Tips for effective communication

Speaker (sender) attitudes and behaviours

  • Consider your emotion at the present moment
  • Look the listener in the eye
  • Express yourself with confidence and clarity so that the other person can understand you
  • Use the word “I” to address more sensitive or problematic situations and identify your emotions and needs regarding the situation (e.g., “I feel sad when you scream.”)

Listener (receiver) attitudes and behaviours

  • Respect the speaker’s words and wait until they have finished speaking before speaking or asking questions
  • Pay attention to the other person and demonstrate this to them (verbally and non-verbally). Tips: Asking open-ended rather than closed-ended questions keeps the conversation going and shows that you are interested in learning more about what the other person is telling you. Active listening lets the sender know that they have been understood, fosters empathy, strengthens relationships and helps to reflect on solutions in cases of conflict.

 

Reflection questions :

  • In general, when you talk to your child, do you do so in a way that promotes listening and understanding?
  • In general, how do you feel when your child talks to you? Do you take the time to listen to your child’s entire message or do you interrupt them? Are you able to identify what they are feeling and how you are feeling?
  • Do you generally feel that your child feels heard and understood by you?
  • How do you encourage good dialogue with your child?
  • Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and ask yourself how you typically react to your child’s comments or questions (e.g., How would I have felt if someone had said to me what I just said to my child? Generally, when I have a discussion with my child, how does it end?)

 

How do you intervene when there is conflict between siblings or when children express themselves through aggressive behaviour?

It can be difficult to know how to intervene when your children are arguing or expressing themselves with aggressive behaviour. If needed, we invite you to consult these resources for guidance :

Parents and children benefit from using active listening within their families to strengthen their relationships. Practise using this exercice on active listening ! [French only)

 

Talking about your emotions

In order to communicate effectively, it is essential to be aware of both your own emotions and those of the other person. Some emotions are easier to identify and share than others. As a parent, being able to identify your feelings and share them is a skill that promotes good mental health in you and your child. It is also important to help your child identify their emotions or feelings.

How can you help your child identify and name their emotions?

It can be helpful to use tools to help your child communicate their emotions. We suggest using the “How do you feel?” kit [French only], which includes three tools : 1.) the emotions thermometer, 2.) the emotions poster and 3.) the emotions and needs cards. This kit can be used as a tool for communicating about emotions and provides a visual reference for your family’s daily life. It will help your family members identify the emotions they are feeling, assess the intensity of those emotions and communicate and share their emotions and needs with other family members.

You could also create a special communication system within your family. For example, you might decide that family members can post a message on the fridge when they are not doing well or when they have a particular need (e.g., a drawing of a big grey cloud to signify that they are sad or a lightning bolt to show that they are angry).

How can we foster a family environment conducive to sharing emotions?

  • Talk regularly about your own emotions, so that your child has a role model
  • Talk to your child about their emotions
  • Encourage your child to share their emotions, but if they don’t feel ready to do so, it’s important to respect their timeline
  • Ask your child how they feel at different times throughout the day
  • Listen carefully to your child when they try to express their emotions or feelings
  • Observe their non-verbal language
  • Try not to judge your child, minimize their emotions or experiences or become too emotional about what they are telling you
  • Let your child know that there are no right or wrong emotions
  • Confirm with your child that it is normal for them to feel what they are feeling
  • Provide your child with strategies to regain their composure in the event that they feel unwell or mention experiencing anxiety, sadness or anger

Here are some strategies your child can use to regain their composure.

You might suggest that your child :

  • go lie down on their bed
  • pick up a stuffed animal or a blanket
  • listen to music or read a book
  • stop and take time to breathe calmly and deeply

When you are not available to listen or respond to your child, it is important that they find other verbal or non-verbal ways to express what they are feeling and experiencing. Here are some examples of suggestions you might offer your child :

  • draw your emotion
  • take your mind off things
  • write a message and post it on the refrigerator
  • talk with another parent or close adult

 

A big thank you to Stephanie and Adela, parent members of the LaPProche advisory committee, for their collaboration and involvement in designing this fact sheet.

This content was developed at the Université du Québec en Outaouais by the Research and action laboratory for people with mental health problems and their loved ones (LaPProche) with funding from the Fonds des services aux collectivités (FSC2018-013) of the Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur and in collaboration with Réseau Avant de Craquer.

The information contained in this sheet does not replace seeking professional advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please see a professional.

 

References

Beardslee, W.R., Martin, J., & Gladstone, T. (2012). Family Talk preventive intervention manual. Boston Children’s hospital: FAMPOD. https://fampod.org/

Centers for disease control and prevention. (2019). Communicating with Your Child. https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/communication/index.html

Ferland, F. (2014). Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien de 6 à 12 ans. Éditions CHU Sainte-Justine.

Méhrabian, A. (1971). Silent Messages. Wadsworth-Belmont.

Piché, G., Villatte, A., & Habib, R. (2019). Programme FAMILLE+. Manuel du parent [document inédit]. Université du Québec en Outaouais : Laboratoire de recherche et d’actions pour les personnes ayant des problèmes de santé mentale et leurs proches (LaPProche).

Piché, G., Villatte, A., Habib, R., & Vetri, K. (2019). Programme FAMILLE+. Manuel de l’enfant [document inédit]. Université du Québec en Outaouais : Laboratoire de recherche et d’actions pour les personnes ayant des problèmes de santé mentale et leurs proches (LaPProche).

Solantaus, T., & Ringbom, A. (2002). How Can I Help My Childrend : A Guide Book for Parents With Menatl Health Problems.

 

To cite this document, please provide the following reference: LaPProche Laboratory. (2021). Parents living with mental illness: Parent-child communication. Université du Québec en Outaouais.
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