5 Tips for Having Tough Talks with Your Children
No matter how mature you feel, your parents can still make you feel like you’re 8 years old.
Years ago, my twin brother and I had a bitter argument over who owned which part of a house we bought together. Neither of us backed down as the issue deteriorated to the point that we weren’t talking to each other.
I decided to bring in our father as an impartial arbitrator, confident he’d side with me. After each of us stated our case, my dad came down with a blunt, abrupt verdict:
“I know what the problem is. You’re both selfish. Is this house really worth more than your relationship?”
Any brotherly chilliness between us thawed at that moment. We apologized, embraced, and wept. My father responded as anyone in his position would have. He exposed how childish my brother and I were acting with a tough but invaluable approach.
By refraining from important conversations with their children, parents let others do it by proxy. This turns into a game of roulette because every child is curious and there are as many different answers out there as there are people to give them.
Figuring out when or whether it’s necessary to have a discussion of this depth with a child can be tricky for a parent. There are three situations in which a parent should immediately supply his or her child with some harsh truths: if there’s a safety risk, if money is involved, or, in the case of my brother and me, if the child asks for advice.
Once a parent has properly assessed a child’s situation, here are five tips that can yield a constructive, productive talk:
1. Open the dialogue
A Phillips National Communications survey, “Let’s Connect,” found that 58 percent of parents and 73 percent of children say they spend less than one hour a day talking to each other. However, talking shouldn’t just be a parent belaboring his or her point to the child.
Talking involves both speaking and listening. Refrain from lecturing by listening as much as you speak, if not more. A strong ratio keeps both sides equally involved in the conversation.
2. Make time
You likely have 20 different things you should be doing at all times — and it shows. The first rule to any constructive talk with anyone is to first make time! This is especially true with children. Let your child know, even if it’s just for five minutes, that he or she has your undivided attention.
3. Actually Listen
Only one in five children believe it’s easy to talk to their parents about things that matter. I believe it’s because even when we speak to our children, we don’t always take the time to listen.
Parents tend to believe they have it all figured out and that their own experiences somehow translate directly to those of their children. Oftentimes, that isn’t the case.
Provide guidelines, not doctrines. Your knowledge should supplement that of your child’s, not supplant everything he or she believes or stands for.
4. Don’t overdo it
Your children need to know you’re there for them, but that shouldn’t veer into the realm of meddling. When you overstep your boundaries, concern can come off as prying and suffocating. A small plant can’t grow healthy in the constant shade of a towering tree.
5. Gain trust
Before any meaningful conversation takes place, honesty and trust must exist. This means that some conversations should stay between child and parent. Developing trust with your child sometimes means keeping your word by keeping a secret.
Navigating your child’s development is a game of give and take. You need to know how he or she feels and what he or she needs. As a parent, you’ll have to make some unpopular decisions.
My father got my brother and me back on the same page by telling us what we needed to hear. Be open, patient, and honest when having tough talks with your children—regardless of how old they might be. You’ll both be better off for it.
Brook Price is president and co-founder of Forte Strong, a failure-to-launch program that gives young men the skills and character traits they need to tackle the challenges of life. Brook has more than 16 years of experience working for some of the most prestigious leadership programs in the nation, most notably Outward Bound and the U.S. Marine Corps.