The Web address of this
Clicking underlined links here will open a
new window. Other links will open an informational popup,
so please turn off your
browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.
Follow underlined links after
finishing this article to avoid getting lost.
brief YouTube video provides a foundation for this article: The video
mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site - I've reduced that to
Antony Samaroff ("The Progressive Parent") offers a conversation about some
of the info in this article.
This four-page article offers ways to
improve communication outcomes with the young people in your life. It provides...
A definition of effective communication
Why communicating with typical
kids is different
than with most adults
General options for better outcomes
Options for better outcomes with typical
Options for handling eight
common problems with typical teens; and...
Suggestions for adults in
divorcing families and stepfamilies.
article assumes you're familiar with...
the intro to this nonprofit Web site, and the
premises underlying it
research on maternal stress, bonding, and kids' later
Think of one or more kids in your life with whom you have significant
trouble communicating. Then identify one
of more kids you can generally communicate "well" (effectively) with. Keep these
mind as you absorb the options below...
What's the Problem?
Premises - any behavior in one person that causes a "significant" mental /
emotional / physical / and/or spiritual reaction in another person is
"communication." Significant is a subjective judgment.Living things instinctively communicate to avoid or reduce current
discomforts (fill needs) and to increase local pleasures. So
in a way
that leaves everyone respecting themselves, each other, and the process
between them well enough.
Effective communication on important topics is often hard to achieve between average
adults because of
unawareness and unseen psychological
wounds. It's often harder to
communicate effectively with typical kids, because...
Kids Aren't Adults (Duh)
People of different
cultures struggle to understand each other's
alien verbal and
non-verbal languages. In some respects, typical kids and adults
are "aliens" seeking to be understood and decode each other's unique needs,
traits, and languages.
How would you summarize the key differences between typical adults and minor kids?
Compare your view with these generalities:
average minor kids...
have less life experience and knowledge
than adults, so
they're more prone to "bad judgment" (mistakes), unrealistic expectations, misunderstandings,
wrong assumptions, and disagreeing with adult opinions,
requests and demands;
true Self (capital "S") is inexperienced, so
the child depends on the Selves of their adults to guide and
protect them. If their grownups
are ruled by
dependent kids acquire and carry significant psychological wounds into adulthood. And...
typical kids have shorter attention spans, undeveloped social
skills, and smaller vocabularies than average women and men. And kids...
have been self-centered since infancy, so they
usually have 1-person
awareness bubbles unless they're scared, concerned, or curious.
And average kids...
are more impulsive and more focused on immediate
gratification than healthy adults. Their
Manager subselves are much less developed than
those in healthy
adults, so kids are more prone to present-moment confusion,
mind-changing. And most kids...
fewer and different social responsibilities than average adults - i.e. they have fewer
needs and priorities to balance, so
they can'tempathize with
the dynamic complexity of adults' needs, priorities, and feelings. In
particular, minor kids can't empathize with the complex roles and goals of
mother, father, grandmother, and grandfather -
tho they may think
And typical kids
less confident and more insecure than average adults,
depending on how
patient, and empathic their caregivers have been so far; and kids...
have different age-related interests
(priorities) than most adults; and they...
are physically weaker than able adults, may
be quicker, and are less aware and knowledgeable of their changing bodies.
are (a) more needy of adult and peer
acceptance and approval, and (b) more reactive to possible or perceived scorn,
rejection, and abandonment. And minor children...
are less able to identify and
describe their feelings and primary needs
than healthy, aware adults, and are more apt to be
frustrated by this. And also, kids...
may be more volatile in (have less
control over) expressing their emotions, unless they protectively numb
or repress them, And average kids...
may be more aggressive (1-up) or more
timid and submissive (1-down) than average healthy adults; and they...
are often more prone to self-neglect and
taking health risks, because they feel invincible and immortal; and...
kids instinctively need to
test repeatedlywhen their
and/or physical environment changes, to
"Who makes the rules and decisions now?"
"Am I (and any siblings)
"How important are my needs in this home
"How much power do I have in my home
and family now?"
Lacking communication skills,
kids' testing can seem like rebellion, indifference,
disrespect, "forgetting," arrogance, and/or defiance.
And as they age, typical kids...
eventually face the confusing, scary,
exciting identity and role transitions from dependent child to independent adult. By their mid-20s, most
adults have made this transition, and may be losing empathy for
what it feels like. (Remember?) And...
typical post-puberty teens and some young
adults have additional differences (below).
Add your own
child / adult differences...
and think of a special child in your life. Do many of these differences
apply to her or him? Does this summary help you accept that every
minor child is a kind
of "alien" whose traits and language you have to learn in order to express
your needs effectively and understand
of the concurrent differences above ranges from minor to major in impact, depending on the
nurturance-level, gender, and
life-experience of kids and adults. Typical over-busy, distracted adults often
forget what being a child felt like - true?
that immature or childish adults who aren't aware of being controlled by
inner kids often have many of these same
"alien" traits, compared to
psychologically-healthier adults guided by their wise
subselves and Higher Power. Also note that some kids from low-nurturance
families have to mature
quickly to survive, and may seem like "little
adults." They are not, no matter how responsible,
perceptive, and intelligent
Bottom line - these
many differences combine to make effective communication between
adults and typical minor kids hard at any age. Do you agree? Remind yourself of these
"alien traits" the next time you're frustrated and/or disrespected
by a young person!
Now lets look at effective-communication options for...
typical pre-teens, and...
Options for Effective
Some techniques help regardless of a child's age, role, or gender, and
others may not. Option - pick a specific child, and use this as a
checklist. The more you practice and tailor these options, the more
automatic they'll become.Circle, check, or star any of these that
special meaning for you.
full responsibility for communicating effectively. Kids don't
know how yet, so blaming them is unmerited and abusive. Your job is to
patiently show and teach them how to communicate in all situations. Part of this
responsibility is to make (vs. find)enough undistracted
time to talk and
listen. Not doing this is major child neglect.
Work to maintain an
attitude of mutual respect despite your age and knowledge
differences. Difficulty doing this often
indicates a well-meaning
false-self controls you. Periodically ask yourself "What verbal and
R(espect) messages is this child receiving from me?"
Discuss and agree on a
specific definition of
effective parenting with relevant adults.Imagine
discussing your definition with each of your kids when they become
to keep a multi-decade view vs. focusing only on immediate
needs. Negotiate and work toward achieving clear, long-term co-parenting
goals with other family adults. The
overall quality of your shared parenting efforts will have major
on all of you in the coming decades...
Stay aware of your main
priorities, as demonstrated by your
actions. How high do "parent effectively"
and "communicate effectively" rank with each of your family adults these
days? Your dominant
are making your priorities...
8) Evolve a clear definition of
child discipline (Lesson 6), and practice it. Explain what you're doing
to your children in age-appropriate language. As parents themselves, your kids will
remember what you did and how they felt, more than what you said.
Is that true of you and your early caregivers?
Use respectful, non-defensive
hearing checks often.
Explain them; and encourage children to use them too.
Praise them when they remember to do so, vs. scolding (shaming) them when they
Maintain comfortable eye contact, and minimize intimidation and
shame by getting on the same eye-level with the child where possible to
avoid lookingdown on them.
Define your criteria for
an "important situation." What seems
routine or trivial to you can be very important to a child, and vice versa!
In important situations, check each of you for significant emotional, physical, and
Seek to reduce any you find before trying (non-emergency) communications.
common invisible distraction is
inner conflicts in you and/or the child. Attend them first before tackling mutual problems.
Option - when they're old
enough, teach kids about
personality subselves or "inner voices" and inner conflicts at an age-appropriate level. This
Be alert for
communication-need conflicts, (e.g. I need action, and you need to vent) and resolve them after any
internal conflicts. Suggestion - teach the child what
communication-needs and need-conflicts are, and how to resolve them.
R(espect)-messages and how to evaluate and describe them. Premise:
Once respect is lost, it must be earned,so disrespect in a
child is often the adults' fault.
Do you agree?
A powerful question to mull or ask is "In this situation, whose needs are
most important to me (or you) - yours, or mine?" The best answer is "Your
needs and mine are equally important now" - unless there's an
Watch for chances to affirm
and praise the child when you honestly feel appreciative.
Have fun using "dodge-proof"
praise-assertions!Suggestion - review your attitude
pride in yourself and the child, and update it as needed.
Ponder this memo for
perspective on any child. Suggestion - read and discuss the memo
with them in age-appropriate terms.
Recall - these are options for communicati9ng effectively with
typical kids and teens.
Watch your respective
E(motion)-levels. If the child's level goes "above their ears," slow down and use
until their E-level drops "below their ears" and their hearing resumes;
and coach the child to use two-person
awareness bubbles, being careful not to
them. Make a game out of this with young kids;
Mentally review your Personal
Bill of Rights, and use it to justify your assertions. Stay aware that
the child has equal dignity and
rights, regardless of age, gender, and your greater
responsibilities and knowledge! If you don't agree, or you "forget" this, a
false-self probably controls you;
When appropriate, tell the
child whether you're making a request("No" or "Maybe" are OK responses)
or a demand ("No" or
"Maybe later") are not acceptable). Demands can be
ignored unless you include and enact a meaningful consequence for
Ask for and offer
hearing checks on important points ("Please tell me what you just heard me
say"), and model them with each child. Stay clear that hearing
does not necessarily mean agreeing.
Train yourself to be aware of your voice tone, eye contact, and body
language. If they don't match your words or each other (a double or
mixed message) kids will be confused and distrustful of you but may not say so.
"Words may lie, but bodies don't."
be concrete, brief, and specific.
(like always and never)
vague terms and pronouns(like it, them, they, those things, that stuff, sort of, the
problem, deal with, work through,...);
"hand-grenade" (emotionally-provocative) terms
and phrases, like stupid, wimp, klutz, disgusting, bitch, childish, etc. (This helps with adults, too!); and
sarcasm and name-calling.
Both promote hurt, shame, rese4ntment, disrespect, and rebellion.
stay focused on one need or problem at a time until you
done with it. Patiently help kids learn the value of this, and how to
stay focused; This requires steady self and mutual awareness - i.e.
stable two-person awareness bubbles;
30) keep your language simple,
and avoid long explanations and lectures. Don't assume kids know the
meaning of common words - check it out - (Ramona, can you tell me what
'distracted' means?"). Intentionally help the child build her/his vocabulary - a win-win project!
Practice using metaphorsandstoriesto interest kids and illustrate your points (e.g. it's better to teach a hungry person
how to fish than to give them a fish;" and "She was as nervous as
a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.")
Apply these communication tipsandphrases as appropriate; and...
With specially vexing or complex
relationship problems, try
mapping your usual communication
process problems and options for improvement.
Learn how to spot and decline lose-lose
power struggles and teach your child/ren how to manage them;
35) Learn "good grief" basics, and be
alert for chances to help kids grieve. Learn grieving
terms, and model and
teach the child how to be an effective
grief supporter. See Lesson 3.
interrupting a child,
unless s/he is rambling or flooding you with too much information.
These usually send disrespectful
messages, despite your good intentions
37) (add your
own communication guidelines)
Stretch, breathe, and reflect. We just reviewed...
two requisites for effective communication
with anyone; (can you name them?)
reasons why typical kids are "aliens"
compared to average adults;
basic requisites for communicating with kids
effectively, (can you name them?) and...
36 options for communicating
effectively with any child. Most apply equally to adults.
What are you
thinking and feeling
now? Which of these options do you want to try? Have you ever
seen options like these in one place before? How many adults do you think
could name even 15 of these 36 options? Do you think average schools are teaching
these communication tools and techniques to average kids? I doubt it.
Do you agree now that
many adults don't know what they don't know about
communicating with the youngsters (and adults)?
Without informed intervention, their (your) kids will grow up equally
Communicating Better with
Your awareness of the adult/child differences on p. 1 will shape how
effective you are in
communicating with pre-teens. So will your knowledge of effective
communication basics (Lesson 2). To gauge your knowledge, take this
quiz after you finish this
Recall: effective communication occurs when both people...
Kids' age affects your communication options, so We'll look at kids under ~6
first, and then at 6 to 12. Numbering continues from p. 1
Options With Kids Under ~6 Years Old
Stay aware that young children..
can't identify or describe
their current physical and emotional needs very well;
will usually focus on their immediate
easily get overwhelmed by
concurrent needs and emotions;
are easily scared by
unexpected actions and events; and young kids...
respond primarily to your
face, body language, and voice tone rather than your words. Their
vocabulary is much smaller than yours, tho they're quick to learn;
and note that very young kids
can't empathize with your and
others' needs, so they are naturally "selfish" and resentful if you
harshly impose your needs.
have a unique mix of needs
depending on their gender; and
are quick to shame (and
defend) themselves when they displease adults and/or make "mistakes."
Typical young girls and boys
to feel valued
to feel heard
play / fun
to test for safety
Circle the five most important of these 18 common childhood needs.
Would other adults in your family agree? The mix of these dynamic needs
silently shapes a child's personality, attitudes, relationships, behaviors,
check: reflect on your earliest years. Did you need each of these?
Did you get enough of them?
(and psychological wounding) occur when young kids don't get these needs
met well enough, often enough. How many typical child-care
providers do you think could name (and consistently fill) all 18 of these
You have more communication options with...
Between 6 and 12 Years Old
Patiently acting on these early options will greatly improve your
communication success when your young ones become adolescents!
__ Option 38)
aware that older pre-teens...
need the same things they
needed when younger (above), and...
are increasingly able to
(physical and emotional discomforts),
that it's normal and
OK (vs. weak and shameful) to be "needy,"
__ that it's good to be able
assert what s/he needs in important situations, without anxiety,
shame, or guilt
- explain and illustrate each of these two vital skills as
appropriate. Practice (a) asking
"What do you need (from me) right now?"
listening; and (b) saying
"I need you to ___."
__ 39) Encourage each
child to (a) identify
and name their specific
("I need you to listen to me!") and (b) summarize your needs, when appropriate.
Praise children when they can do this, and patiently coach
(vs. criticize) them when they can't;
Teach pre-teens _
communication is, and _ what these
are. Model each skill, and periodically explain what they are
("I just gave you a hearing check") when you use them in different
situations; Give special
attention to modeling and teaching how to
listen, assert, and
Recall - these are
options for communicating effectively with older pre-teens (~6 to ~12).
They extend the general options on p. 1
__ 41) Steadily
encourage each child to value and
grow their vocabulary. ("What new words did you learn today?")
Explain and illustrate new words, and praise the child for using new words
correctly. Give special emphasis to words that describe common
primary needs, and relationship
dynamics (e.g. empathy and loyalty).
Suggestion - try making a range
of faces and sounds, and ask the child to name each one ("What am I
feeling now?") Then ask the
child to make faces and sounds (like a sigh or growl), and you name
__ 42) Model and teach
preteens and teens...
_ what their - and other
peoples' personal rights are as a dignified
person, This is the basis for effective assertion
_ common communication
blocks, and how to spot and talk about them (how to use
meta-comments). This will make communication problem-solving
progressively easier over time! And teach older kids...
_ how to
give "dodge-proof" praise,
and _ how to accept praise without discomfort, vs. dismissing, discounting,
or deflecting it; And teach and model...
_ how to disagree and
strive to merit each child's trust that it's
safe to express themselves with you (e.g. that you'll really
listen to them respectfully). Kids (and adults) lie or clam up if it feels unsafe
to tell the truth
__ Option 44) View "rebellion" or "defiance"
as normal testing by the child for (a) her or his family
status and (b) personal security. Typical insecure kids need to know
who's in charge of their home and family, and what the rules and
consequences are - tho they won't say so, and may not like them.
+ + +
Did you realize how many
communication choices you have with young kids? You can probably
think of other strategies to improve your communication with the pre-teens
in your life. Pause and reflect on what you just read - what are you aware
Now let's build on these choices by exploring...
Effective Communication with
This section hilights six significant differences between teens and adults,
and offers troubleshooting tips. If there are
teens in your life that you have trouble communicating with, keep
them in mind as you review these...
Key Teen-Adult Differences
These factors will affect your communication outcomes with
adolescents. Recall your teen years and see if these
premises feel valid:
Teen's personalities are
usually led by Inner Kids and Guardian subselves,
because their resident true Self has limited real-world knowledge and life
experience. Family adults may or may not be guided by their wise true
Selves. When they haven't been (which is common), the teens have
inherited psychological wounds
ignorance which will shape their priorities,
perceptions, and behaviors.
Teen's bodies are changing
in exciting, alien
ways which are often confusing and embarrassing to talk about with adults
and some peers. One result is that
their personal identity is
silently shifting from boy or girl (child) to
young man or woman (adult). Typical girls experience this exciting,
confusing change before boys. This promotes shifts in their own and others'
expectations of their capabilities and responsibilities - e.g. "You
be able to be on time by now!"
Typical teens (and many adults) have not learned how to discuss these
complex physical, emotional, social, and family-role changes and the new
needs they cause, so teens may be extra sensitive to being confused,
"making mistakes," or appearing stupid or incompetent as an
emerging young adult. Arrogance can be a cover for uncertainty, guilt,
Confusion is likely for all family
members, because for an unpredictable period of time, typical teens
can seem like two people
- one moment a child, the next moment an arrogant, impulsive, idealistic,
naive, thoughtful, sweet, and/or defensive young pre-adult.
during this transition period, you're communicating with (at least) two
people in one body! Each persona has different values and priorities, and a different
style. Remember what this was like?
Experiment with the idea that at any time, you may
be communicating with "Alex (or whomever) number One" (the child) or
"Alex number Two" (the young adult). Both are valid. valuable persons!
More teen - adult differences...
Most older teens are approaching the end of high
school, and are
experiencing bewildering choices about
(a) what to do after graduation and (b) how much responsibility to assume for that.
They often assume they know how the world works, and
don't seek or want adult advice, lectures, limits, or warnings - unless
they're living in a high-nurturance family.
teens' priorities and allegiances are shifting from
their family adults to peers, with whom they need to be in constant
contact. That often causes unfamiliar, concurrent
loyalty conflicts and relationship
triangles that require adult understanding, empathy, patience, and communication skills to
negotiate. Do you
lack the life experience and self-awareness of adults
in general, and in specific social roles like spouse, parent, voter,
property owner and manager, investor, taxpayer, and self-responsible
woman or man. So theywill often be unable to empathize with adult needs, priorities,
(some) feelings, and responsibilities. Chiding or punishing a teen for
"insensitivity" or "selfishness" is usually shaming, and promotes the
child's hurt, resentment, guilt, distrust, and rebellion.
independence, peer acceptance,
and excitement, many
teens are vulnerable to trying
risky new experiences like drugs, "defiance,"
breaking rules, body-mutilation, and sexual intercourse. They may sense
these are "wrong," but (their dominant false selves) may feel invincible
and/or rebellious and do them anyway.
Many teens haven't learned how to
assert their needs and boundaries
respectfully ("tactfully"), so they may seem arrogant,
This can also promote significant secrecy, denials, lying, and arguing (vs.
with caregivers who don't fully trust the teen's judgment yet.
__ Option 45) In important communications, remind
your teens are not
adults yet. This doesn't mean you should
talk down to them. Coach yourself to empathize with the differences above as you
help them get ready to live safely on their own.
this guideline in mind, let's look at...
Troubleshooting Communications with Teens
If you have trouble communicating effectively with an adolescent, put your
true Self (and Observer) in charge and honestly assess whether any of these are
contributing to the trouble. Note that
most relationship and
communication troubles are caused by family adults
Scan this whole list before following any underlined links, Check each
problem that applies, and note your thoughts and feelings.
Grown Wounded Child (GWC).
This will cause relationship and communication problems with most
people, not just teens;
unaware of effective communication basics and skills. Take this
quiz, and then apply these
__ The teen's
birthfamily is significantly
If so, the child will (a) have inherited psychological wounds and (b) will
not have been taught effective relationship and communication skills. This
is a family-system problem, not a "problem child."
You're not steadily aware of the teen<>adult difference above. This
makes it's unlikely you can
with the child's feelings and needs. If you're a GWC, you may have trouble
empathizing with most or all people.
More core communication problems...
__ You family
adults did not use the communication options for pre-teens (above).
You're not using respectful
in times of conflict, disagreement, or .high emotions.
arguing, fighting, avoiding, lecturing, intellectualizing, flooding, or power-struggling rather than
teaching and modeling win-win problem-solving.
__ One or both
of you are unaware of not maintain a two-person
in important conversations.
__ One or both
of you unconsciously rank your personal needs above the other's This
sends a disrespectful "1-up"
which causes resentment, frustration, sullenness, silence, and/or anger (in
You're attempting important communications when one or both of you is in
an mind-altered state (e.g. from chemicals),
teen feels you treat them like a pre-teen, and s/he resents that. Two
possible reasons are you don't trust the child's judgment yet, and/or you're
unconsciously avoiding the reality s/he will soon leave you,
Recall - we're reviewing common reasons for communication-problems
with a teen in your life.
making it unsafe for the child to tell the truth, by often
criticizing, ridiculing, discounting, interrupting, ignoring, lecturing,
whining, mind-reading, and/or over-focusing on yourself. This is usually a
sign of unawareness and a disabled true Self.
or both of you are unaware of using some of these communication
blocks, and you're not showing the
teen how to use
awareness, metatalk, and
respectful win-win problem-solving to fix them.
expecting the teen to empathize with you, when s/he lacks the life
experience to do so.
way of disciplining is ineffective
and the teen can't tell you that (or you can't hear it).
or many of these problems are also true of other family adults, mentors,
and/or coaches who influence your teen
Reality check. Consider asking your child to read the adult<>teen "differences"
section above (or read it out loud), and ask for his or her reaction to each
This is one of the articles in online self-improvement Lesson 6 - learn to
parent effectively. From over 40 years professional study, it offers
perspective on why communicating effectively with minor kids is different
than with typical adults.
The article then proposes 45 guidelines for effective communication, and a checklist of common
problems communicating with typical teens. These are based on
effective-communication basics in Lesson 2. Most items in the article link
to sources of more detail.