3 Steps to Healthy Communication with Your Child

How to practice healthy thinking patterns when talking to your child.
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With a sense of collaboration, your child is most likely going to prove themselves worthy of success all on their own.

The cycle is all too familiar. Your child with ADD/ADHD forgets to complete an assignment (or three), takes way too long getting ready in the morning, and waits until 10pm to tell you they need poster board for a project due tomorrow. Naturally, you feel the need to remind them of these bad habits before they happen again, only to be told that you are nagging. You want the best for your child but somehow you are forced into a position of frustration and resentment while your child seemingly refuses to change their behaviors.

Deep breath. Time to reset.

These tips will help you get out of this negative cycle and make effective steps towards a more collaborative and healthy relationship with your child. With a shift in mindset from one of frustration to one of acceptance, the most important motivator to inspire change, the cycle can be broken.

 Step 1: Pause

The Pause is everything. It allows you to become open and to clear your mind before reacting. It gives you time to choose how you would like to respond to the situation before being taken over by automatic negative thoughts, like “Why won’t they just remember to do their homework for once?” or “They are so lazy!” 

All it takes is a 2-3 second pause when you start to feel the stress. Notice what thoughts come up. Notice if these thoughts perpetuate a certain pattern that you and your child have been stuck in. No need to judge yourself for having these thoughts. Just notice them.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is this worth bringing up?
  • How can I phrase this in a way that is collaborative and supportive?
  • Am I about to send the message that I’m on their side?

Step 2: Reframe

Now challenge these thoughts by looking for evidence against them. “Sometimes they don’t remember an assignment, but sometimes they do” or “They may need some guidance with planning ahead, but I know that they can rise to the challenge.”

We want to replace black and white thinking with a new perspective led by rational thoughts. This step takes lots of repetition to work, but over time it creates a beautiful, balanced mindset. The practice of reframing is your ultimate secret weapon against stress.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I thinking with absolute words like “always”, “never”, or “every”?
  • Have I ever messed up in this way myself?
  • How would I want someone to react to me if they noticed I was dropping the ball?

Step 3: Affirm

There is a 0% chance your child is doing nothing right. And even though it may feel hopeless at times, the key is to notice what they do right. This does not mean being overly positive with everything your child does. It does mean shifting your own mindset to seeing their behaviors as separate from their identity. And genuinely telling them what is right with them.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I separating my child’s behaviors or symptoms from their identity?
  • Am I putting my own expectations onto them?
  • When is the last time I gave them a compliment or expressed gratitude for something they did?

We’re all afraid that if we stop holding everything together, it will all collapse. However, this is not the case. With a sense of collaboration, your child is most likely going to prove themselves worthy of success all on their own. Their strengths will show up as well as yours. Your natural supportiveness will be evident. Communication will start to feel easier.

Pause. Reframe. Affirm. This way of thinking will lead to curiosity rather than criticism and will open the floodgates of healthy communication with your child.

Jessica Swiger is a learning coach with experience in teaching executive functioning skills to students with ADD/ADHD, delivering Applied Behavior Analysis, providing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in a therapeutic role, and providing educational assistance as an academic tutor. She has her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and received her Graduate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.