How can I help my child . . .
- encourage my child to communicate and come to me with questions and problems?
- have healthy communication with my child and family members?
- manage challenging relationships, and solve problems and conflicts between family members?
What Is Positive Family Communication?
Family life usually involves multiple people with different ages, personalities, and needs living together under one roof. A family can include biological parents, step-parents, step-children, adopted/adoptive children and parents, foster children/parents. It may also include extended family, such as cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. For families to function well and for family members to get along, it takes patience, cooperation, and understanding. Disagreements and arguments are natural in close relationships. Knowing how to talk through problems before they become bigger conflicts is one of the most important skills parents can teach children.
Effective, positive communication among family members is essential for strong, healthy family relationships.
Positive communication means family members feel comfortable expressing their feelings and emotions openly. It allows them to share their needs and concerns with one another honestly, without fear of being blamed, shamed, or misunderstood. Through open, honest communication, family members can grow closer and talk through frustrations together before they become larger conflicts.
Effective communication enables family members to:
- Understand and build closer bonds with one another
- Feel respected, listened to, and understood
- Work together to solve problems and conflicts
- Support and help one another through challenges
- Develop strong relationship skills (both within the family and with others)
Why It Matters
Communication with a middle schooler may not come naturally at first. They are going through a period in their life when they may be more private, and it might feel as though they are pulling away. As their parent and caregiver, there is a balance between giving them their space and also making sure you are there for them and open to discussing important topics. You may also want to “keep a pulse” on what is happening in their lives so that you can keep them safe.
In addition, children at this age are growing rapidly and going through a range of physical, emotional, social, and behavioral changes all at once. It can feel temporarily like your child is a different person. This can be a confusing and overwhelming time for both middle schoolers and their caregivers, which makes knowing how to communicate with them even more challenging.
In his article “3 Essentials for Healthy Family Communication,” (Psychology Times, Dec. 2019) social worker, Sean Grover, explains that parents and caregivers often get trapped in negative patterns of relating to their children. He cites five common parenting mistakes:
- Blaming each other for their children’s behavior.
- Shaming, criticizing, and lecturing their children.
- Relying too heavily on punishments.
- Dictating rules without discussion.
- Modeling impulsive or disrespectful behaviors.
Grove warns that these “mistakes” can result in ongoing conflicts and further break down family relationships. Negative communication or a lack of communication can disrupt the sense of family connection. This can cause both the children and adults to feel stress, anxiety, isolation and loneliness, even within their own family.
On the other hand, a supportive atmosphere that encourages open, positive communication and values everyone’s input can make a big difference for your middle schooler and your family, both now and in the future. Good communication helps the whole family maintain strong connections and happy, healthy relationships.
Take this brief survey to reflect on positive communication in your family.
Check the statements that are true about communication and relationships within your family and with your teen.
MY FAMILY MEMBERS . . .
- feel that communication is important.
- trust one another.
- spend time together and talk frequently.
- know one another well.
- view one another as friends.
- feel comfortable talking about their feelings.
- can express frustrations without starting an argument.
- feelings and opinions are valued.
- give input on family decisions.
- support one another through challenges.
- talk through disagreements and solve problems together.
MY MIDDLE SCHOOLER
- and I know each other well.
- and I trust each other.
- and I spend time talking daily.
- feels comfortable talking with me about their feelings.
- comes to me when they have a problem.
- and I value and respect each other’s opinions.
- Is asked for input on decisions that affect them.
- and I support each other through challenges.
- and I talk through disagreements and solve problems together.
Reflect on your responses. In which areas do you feel communication is strong in your family? With your middle schooler? What are some areas that could be improved?
Connect & Communicate:
There are many ways to model positive communication in your household. Read through the following ideas and think of times when you have done them. Also note the ones that you may want to try. Keep this list close by and reflect on your communication periodically so that you can continue to grow in this area.
- Communicate often. Family life is busy, and technology makes it easy for everyone to be in their own “bubble.” Put down the phones and eat dinner together a couple times a week. Have an informal chat in the car. Make time to talk about plans and decisions that affect the whole family. Check in with your child about their day before they go to bed.
Here are some sample conversation starters to help open up the lines of positive communication with your child:
- We haven’t had a chance to catch up lately. What’s been going on?
- How are you feeling about …?
- Thank you for sharing your feelings about …
- Do you feel like talking about …?
- I know you’re going through a lot. Is there anything I can do to support you?
- Let’s talk about what happened. I want to hear your feelings and share mine.
- What’s your opinion about … ?
- I’d like to hear your input on …
- Be a good listener. Children who feel listened to, heard, and understood develop strong self-esteem and trust their parents more.
- Encourage them to come to you. Middle school age children may choose not to come to a parent for help with a problem because they are afraid of the reaction they’ll get. They may worry that a parent will be disappointed in them, judge their behavior, or react angrily. Letting your child know you want to help, and they can talk to you about anything is an important step to building trusting, open communication.
- Be conscious of language and tone. Words matter, and so does the way they are spoken. Young people are sensitive to words and tone of voice. They also often imitate the communication style of adults around them. Avoid language that is mean, degrading or hurtful. If you’re frustrated or angry, take time to cool down, until you can speak calmly and respectfully.
- Ask for their input. Give your child the opportunity to weigh in and share their ideas on family decisions. Whether it’s a new living room paint color, a vacation destination, or other choices about their lives, it’s important that they feel their opinions are valued.
- Offer positive reinforcement. It’s natural to focus on problems, worries, and concerns when it comes to your child. Remember to notice the positives in your child’s communication. For example, “Thank you for telling me how you feel.” or “I appreciate the way you said that.”
Activities to do with families and middle schoolers:
- Family Meeting: Set aside a regular time for the whole family to check in. Depending on family schedules, this can be weekly, or even monthly. Use the time to talk about family rules and responsibilities, goals and plans for the future, and to discuss any frustrations or issues. Make sure to focus on the positives and appreciation for each other, as opposed to complaining and harping on the negatives.
- Problem Solving Process. When there’s a family conflict, set a time to talk it out with everyone involved. Set guidelines for the discussion, for example:
- Take a cool-down period and then set a time for everyone to sit down in a comfortable space together.
- Everyone takes turns sharing their point of view and expressing how they feel.
- Family members cannot judge or make fun of each other’s feelings and needs.
- Everyone works together to list possible solutions or ideas for a compromise.
- Once there’s a good list of ideas, everyone goes through each one and decides whether it will solve the problem, is do-able, etc.
- The group votes on a solution.
- Practice “I” statements. Learning how to use these statements is a good step towards more honest and clear communication. For example, instead of saying “You always make me so angry,” encourage them to say “I feel angry when…..” This shifts from a blaming perspective to one taking ownership of their own feelings. Check out this resource for more information: https://parentandteen.com/tips-for-teens-avoid-conflict-with-parents/
- Play 2 Truths and a Lie: Each family member shares two things about themselves that are true and one that is a lie. Through a series of questions, other members try to guess which one is the lie. This helps people learn how to share information about themselves and also creates deeper connections between family members.
- Love Languages Quiz: Find out what the Love Language of each of your family members is. This can help you understand what makes them feel loved and can also support how you communicate with them. https://www.5lovelanguages.com/start/family/
- Do things together offline. Make time every week to disconnect from cell phones and other electronic devices and plug into healthy family time. Activities may include,
- Going for a walk, hike, bike ride or to the gym
- Taking a drive
- Making art or visiting a gallery
- Going to a religious service, meditating together
- Doing a jigsaw puzzle
- Volunteering with a community organization
Contact & Collaborate:
Most families go through communication challenges. Every family deals with problems and conflicts differently. Reaching out to friends, relatives, or seeking ideas and advice from a parent support group can be helpful. A licensed marriage counselor or family therapist can also help families work through difficulties and learn to communicate with and understand each other.
- The guidance counselor, school psychologist, or licensed social worker at your child’s school is a good starting point. Schedule a meeting and ask them for suggestions. They can also recommend local resources if counseling is needed.
- Consider family counseling with a licensed therapist.
- Join a parenting support group in-person or online.
Explore these resources for more ideas on how to promote positive communication in your family.
Communicating with Your Spouse/ Significant Other
Family Shift (podcast): How to Communicate with your Spouse:
I DO (podcast): Communication in Relationships:
Communication for the Family
Fact Sheet: Communication Skills for Your Family
Communication Techniques for Parents of Teenagers (article)
8 Steps to Better Family Communication (article)
Non-violent Communication Skills for Parents & Families (website)
Communication for Middle Schoolers
Effective Problem Solving with Teenagers (website)
Talking To Teens (podcast): Secrets to Better Connection: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy50cmFuc2lzdG9yLmZtL3RhbGtpbmctdG8tdGVlbnM/episode/MzZmMzMzMTUtNGRiYS00ZWY3LTgyNzgtYzc5MGMwNzdiMmVh?hl=en&ved=2ahUKEwj1mZSkn6z0AhUIrp4KHSC5CP0QjrkEegQIAhAI&ep=6