How to encourage open communication with your kids

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Do you have a hard time talking to your kids?

Newcomer parents may find this a challenge due to language barriers or pressing settlement concerns. They can have a harder time connecting with their kids when their children become better at speaking English and start bonding with their classmates. Other parents may be experiencing culture shock or struggling with work and finances, making them less available to their kids. And if your child is an adolescent, changes that come with puberty can further complicate the situation.

Considering that newcomer children are also going through many adjustments, building a loving and open relationship with them is crucial at this time. Your support is essential for their smooth integration and development into well-adjusted adults. Communication is an integral part of this relationship.

Strategies to improve communication:

Be available

Let your child know that they can talk to you anytime. This can be hard considering your busy life. But remember, you moved to a new country so that your children can have a good life, right? Maybe it’s just a matter of shuffling your priorities.

Make your conversations count by really listening. Stay attentive and interested in what your child is saying. Always assure them that you are ready to understand and provide support.

Don’t judge

Refrain from jumping to conclusions and giving advice right away. Let your child finish their story before reacting. Most kids don’t talk to their parents because they’re afraid of getting a negative reaction. They don’t want to be scolded or blamed. Some kids also don’t talk to their parents to avoid stressing them out. They may not show it all the time, but they know and appreciate how hard their parents work. They don’t want to add to their parents’ burden. So when they do talk to you, just be open. Try and keep your tone neutral when you speak. Understand what they need from you at the moment. Perhaps all they need is for you to hear them out and nothing more.

Ask questions

Before reacting, ask questions calmly. This will show that you are listening and want to know more. Try and ask open-ended questions (like why or how) to keep the conversation going. More often than not, you’ll discover what your child really wants to say through follow-up questions.

Use your native language

Your child will not have a harder time learning English if they use your native language at home. There have been many studies supporting bilingualism and its benefits to children. In fact, parents and educators see that when the first language is well-established, it helps the child learn the second language better. Also, since you can express yourself better in your native language, using it will help you provide more support to your children.

Make it a ritual

Check up on them every day. Take advantage of breakfast time, the car ride to school, dinner time, or before bedtime. Keep the conversation light. Share your own experiences with your kids and encourage them to do the same. Showing an active interest in their activities tells them that you care. This will help them become more open.

Be consistent

Model open communication in the household with other family members. Children learn by example. If they see that they will not be ridiculed, ignored or taken lightly when they speak, they will be encouraged to open up. This is a process and may take a while. But the more you do it, you’ll see that it becomes easier and more natural to communicate with them.

Don’t let gadgets get in the way

Mobile phones, tablets, game consoles, even the TV, can hamper genuine communication. Limit gadget use during family time. For starters, be a good example and be gadget-free when you’re at home. You can check your phone later in the evening for any urgent messages.

Read 5 tips for smart digital parenting for more tips.

Take interest in their interests

One of the best ways to have a meaningful conversation with your kids is to have common ground. Why not share their interest in a sport or hobby? Or perhaps watch a movie or a TV series that they like. This will open up so many topics to talk about with your children. It’s also a great way to spend time and bond with them.
Article updated May 7, 2024.
Sources: Struggling to get your children to communicate? Tips to get kids talking, Cheryl Song, Canadian immigrant; Communication tips for parents, APA; and Why should parents talk to their children in their native language? Ana Paula G. Mumy, Multilingual Living. All retrieved July 18, 2018.

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Community Resources

Do you need help communicating with your child or any member of your family? If none of the strategies above work for you, it’s time to consult a professional. The Aurora Family Therapy Centre has various programs that are responsive and affordable.

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