How to Listen and How to Talk

What do I say and how do I say it?

Most families struggle, at some point, with communicating easily with each other. Some children don’t seem to listen or don’t want to talk. Other children talk non-stop and have parents who don’t seem to listen. Communication can be difficult, but following a few simple rules will make it easier for everyone. Strong, fair, and effective communication is the key to healthy relationships between yourself and your children, your partner, and your friends.


Two guidelines to always follow:

Listen to others (including your children) how you want them to listen to you.
Talk with others (including your children) how you want them to talk with you.

How to listen:

Listen more than you talk. What you hear is more important than what you say. (And our children already know what we are going to say – we say the same things over and over!) Once your children feel heard and understood, they can stop talking, stop arguing, and stop trying to convince you to change your mind. Listen fully before you plan your response. Don’t feel the need to offer a solution – simply listen with your full attention to show you understand.

How to talk:

Respond with empathy so your kids feel understood. Talk in a calm, friendly, inviting tone of voice. Talk about things that interest your child. Use fewer words and shorter sentences – if you are saying more than 3 sentences without taking a break, it’s too much!

Hold monthly family meetings:

Include a snack, a large calendar, and laughter. Review the past month, discuss current issues, and plan the upcoming month.

Use technology:

With your middle schoolers and teens, use texting as one tool to stay in touch. (They don’t want to hear your voices. Our voice includes emotion; a text does not.) “Like” your teen on Facebook and monitor their account until you are confident they are safe and appropriate. Use a family on-line calendar to keep track of activities and homework.

With your toddlers:


Give clear directions, don’t ask a favor:

“It is not okay to bang on Mommy’s computer” is a direction.
“Mommy will be sad if you touch her computer” is a favor.

Use a little empathy when responding to your toddler:

“Oh, a cookie sounds yummy, but it is too close to dinner” shows understanding.
“No, you can’t have one” sounds dismissive.

Don’t yell:

It only scares your toddler and makes you feel bad later.

With your kids:


Give clear directions and expectations, don’t hint at a favor:

“Put your dirty plate and fork in the sink” is a direction and an expectation.
“It would be nice if you would help clear the table” is a favor and gives your child permission to ignore you.

Use a little empathy when responding to your kid:

“It would be fun to go bowling, but we don’t have time today” shows understanding. This tells your kid you listened to them and care about what they say.
“No, of course we we can’t go” sounds dismissive. This tells your child that their needs are unimportant.

Don’t yell:

It only scares your kid, makes you feel bad later, and teaches your kid to yell at you.

With your teens:


Give clear directions with some flexibility, don’t ask a favor:

“Take the garbage cans out to the curb by 9:00” is a direction and allows your child to make a choice about when during the day they will do the chore.
“Will you please take out the garbage tonight?” is a favor.

Use a little empathy when responding to your teen:

“I know you will feel left out if you can’t go tonight, but our family rule is”no adults, no party” shows understanding and that you were closely listening to your teen.
“The answer is No. And stop asking me” sounds dismissive and will make
your teen work very hard at getting you to change your mind.

Don’t yell:

It only angers your teen, makes you feel bad later, teaches them to yell at you and causes them to tune out.


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