How to Improve Communication

A healthy parent-child relationship provides the foundation for a child’s physical, emotional, and social development. How can parents nurture trust and respect and build a positive relationship with kids? Listen in as Children’s Hospital & Medical Center behavioral health specialist, Dr. Reo Newring, discusses building these positive relationships.

Topic Breakdown

1:07 – Challenges of Communicating with Children
04:33 – Bonding With Children
06:26 – Meaningful Communication with Kids
07:39 – Consulting a Therapist

Gina Melton: I know when my boys come home from school, I always ask them, “How was your day?” And the one-word answer I always get is, “Fine.”

“Fine, mom. Fine.” Maybe not even “mom.” Just “fine.”

And, you know, talking to our kids is hard because sometimes. I feel like we talk at our kids. So, how can we connect better with our kids so we can both kind of share our feelings, our thoughts, our experiences — all in a positive way so we can open up that line of communication?

Well, I’m Gina Melton with the Just Kids Health Podcast from Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. Join me as I talk with the region’s pediatric experts about everything related to our kids’ health — from things like medical issues, even mental health — all to keep our kids healthy, safe, and strong.

So, just sit back and listen or you can, you know, work out or whatever you’d like to do.

Challenges of Communicating with Children

Now today, I’d like to welcome Dr. Newring to discuss how to improve communication with our kids.

So, doctor, what are some of the challenges of communicating with kids at different ages? I have teenagers, but obviously, my kids have been every age. I feel like there’s just so many different ways to communicate.

Dr. Reo Newring: Yes. And how the child can receive communication and communicate in return changes dramatically obviously over the course of development.

In infants, you’re talking about no words. There aren’t words. You have to use voice tone, you have to use, sort of, how you’re holding your body. Things that you probably aren’t thinking about until you’re in the moment and then you’re hopefully thinking about them.

In toddlerhood, they start to gain more words, and a lot of those words are about, sort of, power and boundaries. Sort of, “What is my world? What is the shape of my world? And how am I going to change the shape of my world?”

Gina: Right.

Dr. Newring: I mean toddlers, that’s what they’re doing, right?

Gina: One-word, toddlers.

Dr. Newring: Right. So, sort of, thinking about the purpose of the communication. Are you trying to prevent a behavior? Are you trying to communicate — like are you trying to actually tell them something? Do you want them to tell you something? Do you want them to just say “okay”?

There’s a lot of different goals in communication. And I think a lot about, like, teenagers you were saying — if your goal is to get the kid to talk, maybe ask what play they just learned in football rather than, “How was your day?”

Gina: Yeah.

Dr. Newring: That’s gonna be more of a key for them.

Gina: Something that’s interesting to them. That would help them open up and then maybe would lead to other —

Dr. Newring: Exactly.

Gina: Questions and answers and things like that.

Dr. Newring: Yeah.

Gina: Now, is it true, Dr. Newring — I guess I read this somewhere, that kids really don’t have, kind of, that impulse control until they’re maybe like 3 ½ or four?

Dr. Newring: Or later. Yes. I mean, it develops very gradually, as the brain develops up until they’re about 25. So, done is not done. Yeah. No, they really don’t have impulse control.

A friend of mine was studying 4-year-olds and they would — they would set a gift on the table in front of a 4-year-old. And then the researcher would turn around and say, “Okay, don’t open this.” And then the researcher would leave the room. And they all opened it immediately.

Gina: Yeah.

Dr. Newring: No impulse control. Can’t do it.

Gina: And so being a kid, a younger kid like that, I’m sure it’s very frustrating sometimes because they’re trying to get their point across with communication and maybe they get frustrated and that’s why I was leading to that. It’s just because, you know, it’s hard for kids sometimes. They don’t feel heard.

Dr. Newring: Right, right. And the littler ones are gonna communicate in ways we don’t like. Like, they’re gonna smack somebody if they take the toy. That means, “Give me back my toy.” It’s not the words we would prefer.

Gina: Right.

Dr. Newring: But that’s the words that are behind that action.

Gina: For that action.

Dr. Newring: Right. Right.

Gina: Right. Right.

Bonding with Children

Gina: So, how can we improve our bonding with our kids? I mean, I feel bonded with my boys, but sometimes I don’t feel like, you know — it’s hard to open up that line of communication.

Dr. Newring: Right.

Gina: And hard to know what to say in which to get them to really open up to me.

Dr. Newring: Yeah. So, I would say, first of all, make sure that you’re safe to talk to so that when they do come to you, you listen. Try not to come down on them. It’s really hard with teenagers because they’re gonna come to you with, like, scary things. “My friend cheated,” or, “I know someone who is cutting themselves.” And you have to respond in a way that’s open enough that they don’t feel shut down. You know, you can’t respond with extreme anger or fear or, “Never do that, my child.”

Gina: Right.

Dr. Newring: Or they just feel like, “Okay, we can’t talk about that thing anymore.”

Gina: Or judgment.

Dr. Newring: Right, right.

Gina: You know, judgment. Yeah.

Dr. Newring: So just, sort of, trying to stay as open as you can and hear them before you decide how you wanna respond.

Gina: Is it sometimes true that younger kids — and maybe not all — but I feel like my boys would tell me more when they were younger, and now that they’re getting a little bit older, they’re a bit more private with things.

Dr. Newring: Yeah. And that’s the — that’s a big thing about — I mean, communication, the whole frame of reference as kids move into middle school and then certainly into high school. The people that they are considering important, the people they are communicating with and interacting with are their peer group. Like you become — I’m sorry, less and less important to them.

Gina: Right.

Dr. Newring: In their lives. So, they don’t need to talk to you because they’ve already talked to their buddies.

Gina: Yeah.

Dr. Newring: And allowing that transition. Keeping the connection as much as you can but allowing them to sort of start transitioning their reference, their cultural reference, out to their peer group.

Meaningful Communication With Kids

Gina: And I know in, you know, just off the microphone, you and I talked about maybe how you can ask sort of more open-ended questions instead of closed questions.

Dr. Newring: Exactly.

Gina: Kind of explain that. What’s a good example of that?

Dr. Newring: So, there are questions that you can answer with just a single word, like, “Where are you from? Are you feeling angry right now? How was school today?” You’re getting the “fine.”

Gina: Right.

Dr. Newring: The trick is to ask questions that don’t have a single answer. So, “What did you learn today? How is your friend doing?” That’s a good one to get people roped in. I think we’ve talked about that before.

Gina: Yes.

Dr. Newring: But questions that don’t have a single answer.

Gina: So — just the bottom line is — as parents, we need to listen.

Dr. Newring: Absolutely.

Gina: And you know, find ways to communicate with our kids that would be meaningful for them.

Dr. Newring: Yes, yeah. And be aware of what you’re modeling for them, too. Think about how you communicate with people around you and what they’re seeing you do. And whether you’re doing what you want them to learn to do as grown-ups. That’s a little roundabout, sorry.

Consulting a Therapist

Gina: And obviously, as parents, I feel good because I always know that there’s a place to come, like Children’s Hospital & Medical Center — where if there’s big communication issues, we can come and see somebody just like you, right?

Dr. Newring: Absolutely. Here I am.

Gina: Here you are. Here you are. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.

Dr. Newring: No, no. And I think we’ve talked about this before, too, that you don’t even — I mean, sometimes a teenager will just say, “Hey, can I have a therapist? Can I just talk to somebody?” And I think that’s a great valid reason to take a kid. Not because they’re necessarily having problems or in distress or can’t solve the problems that they have, but just because they want a safe place to talk.

Gina: But that — that is also a key phrase right there. Safe place to talk. As parents, we need to offer that — no matter what their age.

Dr. Newring: Yes.

Gina: Yeah. Well, thank you so much Dr. Newring.

Dr. Newring: Absolutely.

Gina: Yeah. I appreciate all your great advice today.

Dr. Newring: Well, thank you.

Gina: You bet.

And thanks so much for listening to the Just Kids Health Podcast and just remember to rate, review, and subscribe. And for more information on how we can help your child — visit http://childrensomaha.org/ and follow us on social media.

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