communicating with children

4 Proven Ways to Communicate With Your Kids

Peter, a Play of the Day subscriber, shared this great fathering principle for family communication: “I told my daughter that anytime she needs to talk to me about something and is concerned that I might get angry, she should tell me, ‘I need to talk with you and I don’t want you to get upset.’ This provides her with a comfort level to know that I will listen to her without blowing up or yelling at her. It alerts me to the fact that she has something important to tell me and that I need to listen and reflect on the matter so I can give her support and guidance. Knowing that she can talk to me and that I will listen has been important to my daughter and allows the lines of communication to remain open.”

Communicating with children can be one of your greatest challenges as a father. But just imagine your children looking forward to sharing their lives with you; imagine them wanting to hear your opinions on a particular issue; imagine feeling comfortable discussing anything with your kids. Here are 4 ways to do that.

1. Listen rather than lecture.

There is certainly room for a well-timed lecture, but also realize that quite often, our children don’t need our answers, and they don’t need us mentally rehearsing our answers while they are speaking. They need the comfort of knowing we’re there for them—and that isn’t a result of wise lectures. Seek first to understand, whether you’re settling a dispute, offering comfort and counsel, or just talking at the dinner table. Attentive listening leads to understanding, which is a priceless commodity between a father and his children. It informs you in your fathering tasks and, perhaps more importantly, expresses your unconditional love for your kids.

Example: Your daughter comes to you feeling uneasy about entering middle school in the fall. What do you do? You could simply tell her that middle school is nothing to worry about and millions of people have passed through relatively unharmed. But that wouldn’t meet her immediate need. She needs to know that her father loves her and believes in her, no matter what happens during the next school year. We show our love and concern by listening.

2. Learn to disagree without starting WWIII.

We hear a lot of talk about diversity these days. We should learn to appreciate people who are different from us. But you probably never thought about diversity in your own household. Of course, you won’t want to give a toddler much room to disagree with you. But it’s inevitable that your children will make choices with which you won’t always agree, from how they spend their money, to the friends they choose, to the dates they choose, even to their basic philosophies of life. You can disagree and still maintain an atmosphere of acceptance by learning to appreciate your children’s unique gifts and perspectives. Expect their opinions to change from time to time, but be unchanging in giving respect to what they have to say. This is essential when communicating with children.

Example: Avoid making heavy-handed dictates that leave no room for discussion; demonstrate that you do understand, and then state your case by saying, “The way I see it…” or “In my experience…” You are the head of the household, but your children will be much more cooperative if they know Dad is willing to yield on some points. A good rule of thumb for disagreements may be to ask yourself, “Will this still be important to us three years from now?” If not, why cause any damage over it now?

3. Let your actions speak louder than your words.

No matter what you tell your children, the life you live communicates what you’re really made of.

We think of communication as verbal, and that is the kind most dads need to work on. But a father’s actions go hand in hand with what he says. One son gets punished by his father for sneaking out to an R-rated movie but then one day finds his dad’s adult magazines hidden in a drawer. Few things cause more confusion in children than fathers who spout moral absolutes and then live out a double standard. No matter what you tell your children, the life you live communicates what you’re really made of.

Example: There’s the girl who hears her dad talk about obeying the laws of the land, and when he is driving on vacation, she notices that the speedometer hovers right around 65—the speed limit. This father is teaching his daughter that there are clearly defined boundaries and that some things are good and right and some are not. 

4. Be open, honest, and positive.

We need to be open, honest, and positive when communicating with children. Open honesty tells you what to communicate. It means having those “hard talks” when you know you need to confront a child for misbehaving or humbly asking for forgiveness when you have wronged him. A positive approach determines how you communicate. When your child succeeds at something or shows kindness to someone else, encouragement is the natural response. But being positive gets harder when your child makes a mistake or is insensitive to others. Too many fathers react by insulting or shaming their children, but we need to affirm them in everything, even when correction is our ultimate goal. There is always a positive way to talk to your child.

Effective communication demands large amounts of undivided attention, as well as creativity, perseverance, and sometimes even courage. But the ultimate question is not will we communicate with our children but rather will we use communication to build them up or tear them down? Will our actions turn them against us, or will they validate and reinforce what we say? That’s the true challenge of communication.

Sound off: What’s the hardest thing about communicating with children?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What’s your favorite thing to talk about with me?”