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Parent communication: tips for talking

Talking keeps you and your partner close and can strengthen your long-term relationship. Constructive and positive communication and talking are also some of the best ways to sort out the conflicts that can come with raising children.

Why talking is important for communication

Talking is a major part of resolving problems or conflict. What you say and how you say it influence how well you’re understood. This also affects how others respond to you.

Talking with your partner and family about everyday things – like what you’re doing, what they’re doing, how you feel, how they feel – is one of the main ways that families connect.

Talking and communication basics

When you have to raise an important or a tricky issue, the keys to constructive communication and positive talking are:

  • sharing thoughts and feelings rather than blame
  • making suggestions or requests rather than giving commands
  • opening topics with positive feedback
  • thinking about when it’s a good time to raise a topic – maybe after the immediate issue is over, and not at stressful times like dinnertime and bedtime
  • postponing the discussion until later if things get heated, and agreeing on a better time to talk.

Tips for talking

Here are some ideas for talking positively and constructively.

Be polite
You might be surprised at how often the basics of politeness can slip in long-term relationships. Words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can help a lot.

Use open body language
Communication will be easier and more positive if you:

  • have a relaxed stance
  • make eye contact with your partner
  • sit or stand near each other.

Give your partner positive feedback
Everyone likes to feel appreciated, so look for opportunities to give your partner positive feedback.

If your partner is used to getting praise and encouragement from you, it will make it easier to listen when you have to raise a problem.

Weigh it up before bringing it up
Ask yourself if an issue is really important before raising the issue with your partner. Can you let it go?

Hold back on hurtful words or words that will start an argument

  • Avoid name-calling or negative references (‘You’re stupid’), bringing up the past (‘This is just like last time’), questioning your partner’s intentions or motivation (‘You just don’t care’), or making unhelpful comparisons (‘You’re just like your mother!’).
  • Watch out for words or phrases that imply that your partner is always wrong or not trying – your partner is bound to disagree. Phrases to avoid include ‘You always ...’ and ‘You never ...’.
  • Try to describe what’s causing concern and leave out why you think it’s happening. For example, you could say, ‘You never help me. You just watch TV while I have to get the dinner ready and look after the children’. But it might be better to say, ‘I’d find it easier to get dinner if the kids were busy. Would you be able to play with them for a bit please?’

Keep it brief
Long-winded explanations can sound like a lecture and can be a barrier to good understanding, so try these tips instead:

  • Think about what’s most important for your partner to hear, then try to describe it in as few words as possible.
  • Stay focused on the topic, rather than raising other issues or concerns.
  • Concentrate on solving the problem, rather than working out who is to blame for the problem.

Take responsibility for your feelings

  • Avoid statements that start with ‘you’. These can sound like an attack and make your partner feel defensive.
  • Describe what you want, using a statement that starts with ‘I’ rather than focusing on what your partner is or isn’t doing.
  • Share your feelings about a situation and briefly describe what the problem is from your point of view. For example, you could say, ‘You’re an inconsiderate loud mouth’. But it might be better to say, ‘I feel embarrassed when you say things like that in front of our friends’.
  • Offer suggestions or examples rather than telling your partner what to do. For example, you could say, ‘Stop yelling at Lucy to clean her teeth. Just make her do it’. But it might be better to say, ‘Lucy doesn’t like cleaning her teeth and I know it's very frustrating. I've found cleaning my teeth with her helps. Do you think it could be worth a try?’
After you and your partner have made a decision on an issue, it’s a good idea to talk about it again after a while, to make sure that your plan is working. If not, be prepared to sit down and make some changes together.

Getting help

If you’re having trouble getting these suggestions to work for you, you could try couple counselling. Relationships Australia offers counselling services around the country.

If you’re in a relationship that involves domestic violence, call a helpline, seek support and do whatever you need to do to ensure your safety and your children’s safety.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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