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New Mexico State University
Talking to your child about difficult issues.

WAVE Tools for Parents How to Talk to Your Child

  • Focus: Make eye contact with your child. Show your interest in the topic. Don't get sidetracked on tangents.
  • Chose a Good Time: Pick a time when your child is not distracted or rushed. Pay attention to your child's mood and avoid times when he/she is agitated, defensive or overwhelmed. Try for a time when you can both be relaxed.
  • Keep your goal in mind: Remember, you are trying to expand your child's thinking and prepare him/her for situations that might arise. You are both on the same side so make sure that you are maintaining mutual respect and not trying to "win" an argument.
  • Use Open-Ended Questions: Avoid turning the conversation into a lecture, which will likely be tuned out. Avoid questions that have a "yes/no" answer.
  • Listen: Active listening means you don't interrupt, don't judge, don't finish sentences. Do not agree or disagree -- just let your child speak his/her mind. When your child is done, paraphrase what you heard to be sure you are both on the same page. "It sounds like you are saying . . ."
  • Be honest: The key to productive and open communication is honesty.
  • Admit Your Errors: We ask our children to admit their mistakes and take responsibility for their actions and adults must do the same. Your child will see it as a sign of strength, not weakness, and will be more likely to respect your point of view.
  • Use Self-Disclosure: Self-disclosure conveys trust. You can help your child "open up" by doing the same. Discuss similar situations from your life.
  • Verbalize respect: Show your respect for their ability to handle these difficult years and difficult situations. "I'm impressed with how you are coping. . ."
  • Talk often: One conversation will not be enough. It is sometimes more effective to have frequent short conversations than a long one. These are on-going issues so creating an on-going dialogue will indicate your availability and willingness to take these issues seriously.
  • Agree to Disengage: If you or your child become emotional or angry, take a break from the conversation. You can resume when you are both calm and ready to hear each other.
Adapted from Dr. Rob Turrisi, Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University.