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If you ever wonder how much children pick up on what you say, hang out with a toddler and drop a swear word, and see how quickly they repeat it!

You are the longest relationship your child has, and for quite some time, will ever have. That means you are also the most influential teacher – whether you mean for them to learn that thing or not! One of the most common concerns I speak to teenagers about, is conflict with their parents. Now I don’t automatically side with a young person when they tell me their parent is harsh in how they speak to them, but having been a psychologist for over a decade, primarily working with young people and families, I also know that they are as often right as not (if perhaps not quite to the extent they think they are!)

How you talk to your children, and how you talk with others, DOES have an important impact on how your child then learns to communicate

What are some things to consider to help give that the best shot?

– No, you do not have to be cool, calm and collected all the time. You’re a human. They’re a human. You will both mess up (more on this further down)

– Appropriate tone, appropriate language. Do you yell at your child to stop yelling? Or use sarcasm as a tool to make a point, but become enraged if they “take a tone” with you? The way you speak – when you are happy, sad, mad or whatever – is important. Using a moderated tone, and language you would be willing to stand behind when calm, shows your kids that this how you speak to others

– Be mindful of modelling good communication in situations where your child is an observer. Things like how you speak to a sales assistant, offhand comments about someone you just crossed paths with, other drivers on the road – they are all chances for you to show what respectful and appropriate communication should look like

– Take it a step further and also model really positive communication. Verbalising gratitude, acknowledgement, thanks, appreciation of others. And expressing your vulnerability (age-appropriate) in front of your child, also allows them to get some templates for how this can be done well

– Conflict situations (between you and your children, or you and others) are the testing ground for using appropriate communication. Keeping the disagreement to a single point (e.g. just because you are talking about the towel on the floor, don’t then add in other issues). Keep the tone and language appropriate. And if you/they are escalating, role model healthy self regulation by stepping away, with a plan to return

– While you aren’t always going to get it right (we call this a rupture – when there is a strain in an interpersonal relationship), how you then seek to fix it (this is called the repair) shows your willingness to communicate. It is such a rich and meaningful opportunity to acknowledge your role, to seek to make amends AND TO COMMIT TO DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME (note: repeated repairs without change wear thin – think “the boy who cried wolf”)

Need help with managing your communication with your child? Or in supporting your child to develop their communication skills? Our team of psychologists can help:

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At ConnectEd Counselling and Consultancy, we believe that all families, and the communities they belong to, benefit from a little extra care and support. Whether the problems are big or small, we want to make sure everyone has the chance to feel connected – to themselves, to others and to their community. We offer counselling services to young people and families and have immediate availability. If you need some support, get in touch here:

(Written by: Dr Matt O’Connor)

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