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The One Parenting Skill for Every Situation (Including Conferences)

In my years as a principal working with families in high school, middle school, and elementary school, I have had hundreds of conversations with parents about challenging situations with their children. In my office, parents have talked with me about academic struggles, friend problems, personal habits, technology use, drugs, sex, mental health, future planning, and the list goes on and on. Without fail, in every situation, there is one parenting skill that we end up talking about more than any other: communication. We’re talking about the type of communication where you feel like your child really listened to you, where your child feels like you really understood them, and where mutual trust is built.

Parent conference time is a great opportunity to put this type of communication into practice. Here are 5 things the most successful parents do when communicating with their children:

1 – Make connecting a regular priority
Take time every day to check-in with your child about their day. Ask how they are feeling (teaching them to recognize and share their feelings) more than simply what happened during their day (simple retelling). This applies to high schoolers as much as it does young children. Do activities with your child that they enjoy: ask them if you can play that video game they like or record a TikTok video together with them. The more you can bond over feelings, the more open and connected your relationship will be.

2 – Listen actively more than you talk
Make sure to lean into every conversation and really listen to what your child is saying. Instead of responding right away, try restating what your child said in a respectful way to show you understood. For example, “It sounds like you’re having a really difficult time working with Fran on the tower project. You don’t feel like she’s listening to you.” It can be hard, but try not to interrupt; letting your child finish their thought while they know you’re listening will make them more likely to keep talking with you.

3 – Validate emotions and show empathy
Recognizing and naming what your child is feeling helps them feel understood and loved, it also helps them learn how to recognize their own emotions and the emotions of others: a critical skill that will set them ahead in life. Talk directly with your child about how what they are sharing made them feel. For example, “It must be really frustrating when you’re trying to work hard and your friend isn’t taking the project seriously.” For younger children, talk with them about how that emotion feels in their body. For example, “Where did you feel that? Did your head get hot or did your muscles get tense?” When your child feels understood, you will have unlocked the door for deep and meaningful communication that can really make a difference.

4 – Help them think things through
Once you’ve made the effort to connect with your child, you’ve really listened, and you’ve had the chance to validate their feelings, you can ask questions to help them think about the situation and see different perspectives. Asking genuine questions such as, “What was happening right before Fran yelled at you?” or “Do you have a plan in case this happens again?” helps guide your child to uncovering their own solutions and teaches them a valuable personal skill they will use for the rest of their lives.

5 – Model respect and honesty
In every interaction with your child, treat them the way you hope everyone would treat them and the way you’d want them to treat everyone else. Your child looks to you to be a consistent force they can trust – it is important to set limits and boundaries, but do it with honesty and respect for them as a person. No matter their age and no matter how upsetting the situation may be, communicating in a respectful way with openness will build the bond between you and your child that will make every following conversation that much easier and deeper.

We have all made plenty of mistakes as parents and it’s never too late to start fresh today. Forgiving ourselves when we see that we could have done better and trying again the next day is an important lesson to remind ourselves and model for our children. I hope you have some great communication with your child today and tomorrow around their learning and growth and I hope thinking about these things helps your bond to grow in the months and years ahead. From one parent to another: good luck!

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