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Joanne Stern, Ph.D.
Joanne Stern Ph.D.

Avoiding Three Traps for Good Parent-Child Communication

Do you ever wonder what happened to your sweet child?

Do you ever wonder what happened to the sweet child you once had—the one who talked with you about anything and everything? Where did he go? Did he morph into a sullen, closed down kid? Will he ever come back or is he gone forever? I hope you never lose your ability to communicate with your kids—even when you feel inadequate or they are going through a difficult phase—because good communication is at the top of the list of essential parenting tools. But even if you've slipped into a tough time, don't despair and don't give up. You can renew a positive relationship with your children, and you can rebuild the communication between you.

Sometimes we just run out of ideas—and energy—to make things better. We think we're doing everything possible to strengthen our ties with our kids, when what we really need is a couple of fresh ideas from the outside. I am delighted to share with you an interview I had with Vanessa Van Petten, an expert in parent/child relationships.

Joanne: I think we both agree that good communication is the bedrock of a great parent/child relationship. Can you give us some tips on how parents can create healthy communication with their kids?

Vanessa: I often get asked for a list of easy communication Dos and Don'ts. I think first it is really important for parents to remember that teens and kids can be very sensitive to the way they are spoken to and the way they are spoken about. I always encourage parents to never talk about their teen in front of them as if they are not there. Also a big complaint we hear from our teen and tween interns is that they wish their parents would not embarrass them just to be funny. This only creates barriers between you and your child. Sometimes parents believe this kind of teasing can give their kids a thick skin or is light-hearted. But kids often feel that this kind of teasing is hard on the relatinship.

Unfortunately, another big part of communication is fighting or arguing. I always tell parents that we have to work hard to stop the 'whine cycle.' If your child goes into ‘whine' mode, do not respond until they take the ‘whine' out of their tone. Also, if you are in an argument, try changing locations—those three seconds provide space to calm down and reset. Taking a break from communication can often help communication! It is also always good to start with what you agree on. This puts you both on the same page and makes it easier when they have to compromise. Lastly, if you feel like you might say something you do not mean, walk away.

Joanne: At what age do you suggest parents begin to develop these communication patterns with their children?

Vanessa: Babies and toddlers pick up their communication styles from their parents. I think it is essential for parents to communicate with their children with these principles as soon as their children begin to communicate!

Joanne: I've heard you talk about three major communication traps parents fall into when trying to talk with their kids? Please tell us what they are.

Vanessa: Yes! Here they are:

1) If you want your child to break a rule, tell them "because I said so." This is a huge trap parents fall into.

2) Don't fall into the ‘I'll do it later' trap. We all know they won't do it later and you will be disappointed. Get into the habit of telling your kids to do it now or get on a schedule—kids and teens will almost always push the boundary if they know they can.

3) Don't play ‘what if' with them or yourself-this will only end in a battle of logic. It also teaches kids that they can debate with you, as opposed to respecting what you have to say.

Joanne: What's the best scenario parents can expect with their kids? In other words, what do parents have to look forward to when they develop positive and respectful communication with their children?

Vanessa: When children feel heard, respected and are sure about their boundaries they develop a deep trust for their parents and a wonderful sense of well-being and self-esteem. Good communication will stay with your children for life! Also remember even if you are going through a hard point of communication with your kids, if you are consistent and tell them you love them, they will come back! What I mean is, my dad used to say that I 'left' for a few years during my teenage years. He felt the Vanessa he knew was temporarily absent, and a surly, snarky girl was in her place. When I turned 20 I realized my Dad wasn't so bad after all and the old me 'came back.' We joke about our rough times now.

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation's youngest experts, or 'youthologists,' on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting blog, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers from ages 12 to 20 to answer questions from parents. Her approach has been featured on CNN, Fox News and in the Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the parents and teens. Her next book, "Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I'm Grounded?" will launch in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.

For more ideas on effecvtive parenting, check out my book, "Parenting Is A Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life."

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About the Author
Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in family and couples counseling, as well as the author of Parenting Is a Contact Sport.