Communicating with children

Evonne Weinhaus and Karen Friedman

Remember the old adage, “Silence is golden”? As parents, we have a hard time with this notion. We believe that when a child makes a statement, he is implicitly asking for a response. And, of course, we oblige, thinking that communication with our child is important. But here’s a new notion for you: You don’t have to respond to every comment that comes out of your child’s mouth. Sometimes the most effective form of communication is keeping silent. There are times when it’s okay for your child to have the first, the last, and the only word.

This is especially true for those times kids come up with “announcements” that sound remarkably like complaints, perhaps even remarks that unfairly blame you. Typically parents respond to these comments by suggesting, clarifying, or simply disagreeing. But these seemingly innocent comebacks have the potential to ignite a power struggle since they unwittingly challenge the kids to make their own point even more strongly.

Instead of chiming in, simply listen. Show you’re paying attention, but don’t feel compelled to comment when it’s not necessary. Remember, silence is often a valuable communication skill. … Silence is [one] way to acknowledge your child’s problem without becoming part of it. You are not being hostile or rejecting; at the same time, you’re not setting yourself up to be the fall guy for your child’s anger. Believe it or not, most of the time kids say things to get them off their chests and they really don’t expect you to do anything.

Remember those easy-to-forget, undervalued words “Oh,” “Hmm,” “Really”—those short lifesavers that keep you out of a fight. These overlooked words are just as versatile as they are short. You can use them in many ways. The secret is in your tone of voice and how you punctuate your line. You may want to punctuate it with a heavy period, meaning “That is the end of this discussion”; an exclamation mark, meaning “Your comment has made an impression on me”; or even a question mark, meaning “I really do want more information.”

When you use the “silence is golden” and “keep it short and simple” skills, you can:

  • stop a battle before it begins.
  • acknowledge to your child that you’ve heard him.
  • keep yourself from becoming defensive.
  • avoid getting caught up in an issue that you have no intention of solving.


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