Communicate Openly for Healthy Relationships

By Wendy Lynch, Youth First Social Work Intern, Courier & Press, February 17, 2015 –

Does your child have trouble navigating relationships? Do you feel confident in your ability to help your child sort through their conflicts?

Being available and willing to listen are the building blocks to establishing the necessary trust to help your child get through relationship conflicts. When open communication is established between parent and child, it empowers the child to carry those communication skills over into future relationships. Most children, like adults, really want to be listened to and understood.

Children learn and parents teach through modeling, often unaware they are engaging in either. If you yell, your child will be more likely to yell. If you respond to someone in a negative manner, your child will emulate this behavior. Conversely, if you engage in positive behavior, your child will behave more positively, and so on.

By modeling desired values and guiding your child, you can significantly increase the chances of them absorbing positive relationships skills. As your child develops healthy relationship patterns, they will be much more likely to self-regulate their own emotions — especially when relationship conflict occurs.

Sharing emotions, feelings, and thoughts is imperative in navigating life’s challenges. The next time your child is dealing with a relationship problem, invite them to come to you and freely express themselves. This will allow you to bond and communicate in a healthy way.

Practicing open communication from an early age will help them connect with and understand others in the future. Parents can have an enormous impact on their child’s happiness by just being present.

According to a 2001 study on parent/child communication by Dr. Susan Ennett at University of North Carolina, African American families tend to talk more openly about alcohol and tobacco use with their children than do Caucasian parents. According to Ennett, having those open discussions is vital to the parent-child relationship and explains why African American youth have lower alcohol and tobacco use.

Boundaries are also important in all relationships; therefore, it is important to help our youth recognize the importance of them. Setting boundaries is essential to taking care of self.

According to Dr. Margaret Paul, if you are going to set a loving boundary, instead of saying “You can’t treat me that way,” you will say something like, “I don’t like being treated this way, and if you continue, I will leave this conversation (or get off the phone, or leave the house, or leave the relationship).” What you choose to do in the face of another’s unloving behavior is what you DO have control over.

So parents, be proactive. Work on opening the communication between you and your child by making a concerted effort to be as present as possible. Listen and model the behavior you wish your child to emulate, and help them learn to set and respect appropriate, loving boundaries. These adaptations of trust building will improve your child’s quality of life and help them improve their relationships. After all, the quality of your child’s relationships is the most direct link to the quality of their happiness.