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Mastering the lost art of parent-child communication

The parent-child bond is a unique experience that lasts a lifetime. This experience may be both positive and negative to the parents and the children. Your daily interaction is important, especially how you as the parent communicate with your child. Yes, mom and dad, effective communication may be a new language for you, but the more time and patience you take in positive parenting, the more effective communication becomes in creating a positive mental health effect in your children.

The good news is that effective communication methods and techniques today are no different than parenting experts from decades ago shared with your parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. The four consistent keys are being calm and loving, taking time to explain, taking time to listen and being a good role model. 

Being calm and loving is a choice in your behavior. The tone and delivery of your voice in talking to your children can determine whether they really listen to what you are saying. Do you hear your own voice when you speak to your children? Speak in calm tones, even during the heat of a disagreement or discussion. Sometimes your voice must be more commanding, but 95 percent of your verbal interactions with your children do not require an authoritarian approach. How would you feel if the only voice you heard repeatedly was your parents’ loud, forceful one? How did you interact and respond when your parents spoke to you in such commando style?

Communication in my household always was like a foreign language. My mother spoke to me in commanding tones from early childhood to adulthood. Her forceful, condescending voice instructed me to “tell my father dinner was ready,” yet he was within earshot and could hear her. This type of communication did not work well in forming a loving, kind relationship.

Also recognize that not every interaction with your children is an opportunity to teach a lesson. Take time to stop and just be in the moment with each of them, one at a time. What a joy to get to know your child’s gifts and talents and the struggles they really want to share with you.

Finding time can be a challenge in our fast-paced times, but families always have been busy; the type of busy just changes. As technology progresses, one-on-one verbal and non-verbal interactions decrease. It really is beneficial in the lifetime mental health script you write for and with your children to practice what you preach. Children learn their communication skills from you, their parents. 

Above all, listen! More specifically, become an observer listener. This means stop and sit down at your children’s level to talk with them. Give them your full attention. Turn all electronics off. Observe your children’s non-verbal behavior. Listen to your children’s ideas and show you care about them and their point of view.  

Communication does not always come easy and is not perfect all the time. The mental health of the family requires consistency in conversation, both verbal and non-verbal. Smile lots. Hug your children. Tell them you love them in words and actions. They do not always ‘know’ how their parents feel about them. Yes, even millennials want time with their parents and family members one-on-one.

It is not a new language; it is a lost language. 

Sher Graham is co-chair of the Gulf Coast Mental Health Coalition. Reach her at

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