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Positive Ways to Talk and Listen


Girl: I'm mad at Susie. She's mean. Mom: Can you tell me exactly what happened?

Specific Questions Invite Kids to Open Up

"Whether you have a preschooler or a preteen, a well-meaning but general question often only produces a one-word answer. Instead, try asking a specific question. A specific question lets your child know you are really listening, acknowledges his feelings and encourages him to respond with a specific answer."

Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Co-author, Raising Cain, Senior Project Advisor

As parents we spend so much of our time talking to our kids — and then wonder why they don't seem to hear us. In heated moments, we find ourselves stuck in power struggles, but can't figure out what to say to stop the fighting. Sometimes we just don't know how to answer a tough question.

Why can talking with kids be so hard? "The basic challenge is that parents very often speak without understanding how their children receive the message," says Michael Thompson, Ph.D., co-author of Raising Cain. "We often make an assumption that our kids understand. But then we wonder, 'Why didn't they do what I said?'"

While many parent-child conversations can lead to misunderstandings, becoming an effective communicator is not only possible - it can even be fun! In this guide you will find practical ways to communicate effectively with kids of any age, using words they can hear and techniques that make sense. The information is based on successful strategies that parents and experts (many of them parents themselves) have used with kids.

Remember: There is no script to memorize or order you have to follow. Think of these easy-to-employ ideas as tools you can pull out when you need them to help you and your child understand each other. And keep in mind that there are important times when NOT talking at all may be your best option.

NEXT: Spend Time Listening

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