Communication is important during both good and tough times. Good communication is central to having a healthy relationships within the whole family unit.

ReachOut Parents Youth Mental HealthIt’s a two-way process and involves listening along with talking.

How we listen to others is just as important as what we say to them. Good listening is much more than staying silent when someone speaks.

Active listening

The most effective form of listening for building good relationships is active and empathic listening. Empathy is about seeing things from the other person’s point of view.

We are much more likely to build good relationships with young people if we really make an effort to see things from their point of view.

Listening to them will help them feel more supported and understood. They are more likely to open up and discuss what’s happening in their lives.

A quick guide to active listening:

  • Show respect, stop what you’re doing and give your full attention.
  • Show interest and that you’re trying to understand.
  • Body language, tone of voice and facial expressions can convey a message more strongly than words we use. Think about your tone of voice: is it respectful or judgemental? Think about your body language and whether this reflects what you’re saying.
  • Listen without interrupting, judging or correcting. Avoid the temptation to interrupt and ‘give out’ if your son/daughter says things you don’t agree with. Focus on asking questions in response to something they say, not on giving your own opinion, so the young person feels listened to.
  • Keep calm. When things get heated the message does not get through.
  • Try to understand. A frequent accusation from young people is “You don’t understand”. Even if you feel you do understand, take this an opportunity to ask them to help you to understand how they are thinking/feeling.
  • Do something else. If there’s no communication between you and your son/daughter, you can try giving ‘talking about things’ a break. Instead you can stay in touch through shared activities – a movie, a match, a TV programme, something you can both enjoy.

Easier to talk on the move

No-one likes the feeling of being scrutinised during conversations, particularly if it’s a sensitive topic. It might be worth going for a walk together or giving them a lift somewhere in the car.

When parent and child are both looking at something else it can sometimes be easier for them to open up. The shoulder to shoulder approach is less confrontational.

Tough conversations

Some conversations may be more difficult than others to work through. Topics such as alcohol, drugs, academic issues, sex and money are not easy to discuss. It’s important talk to have, especially if you’re dealing with adolescents.

Tackling the conversation together is a sign you have a healthy relationship. No matter how hard the situation is, it’s still worth talking about, so don’t give up on the issue.

Some tips to mastering a tough conversation:

  • Manage your own feelings and behaviour. Take a deep breath, try to stay calm and consciously lower your voice if your notice yourself getting louder.
  • Acknowledging your son/daughter’s position at the start of the conversation can make everyone less defensive.
  • See things from their perspective, this involves actively listening.
  • Avoid being critical, judgemental or getting emotional. Try using “I” statements to describe your feelings e.g. “I was really worried when you weren’t home by 11 and didn’t call or text” instead of “You’re so selfish leaving me sitting here worried sick about you all night”.
  • Be careful when expressing anger. It can make you more angry because it reinforces the belief that you’re right and they’re wrong. Instead, try to suggest solutions so the situation doesn’t arise in the future. Involve them in coming up with possible solutions.
  • Be aware of your body language. Face towards them, maintain eye contact and empathetic facial expressions.
  • If you feel it didn’t go well, discuss this. Explain why you want to discuss the issue again.

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