2. Communicating

Communication with kids is about talking and really listening.

Keeping an open line of communication with your kids means they will be more likely to come to you when there is a problem.  

Improved communication helps kids feel free and safe to talk to you, and builds a strong parent-child bond. Effective communication is key to creating respect and understanding – now and into the future.

Research specific to father-child communication has indicated that for school-aged children, positive father-child communication is associated with positive child-development outcomes in areas of self-control and social competence. Children whose fathers take time to engage in conversation with them also show increased measures of self-esteem and self-confidence.

Within ‘Communicating’, the Fathering Fundamental:

Communicating: communication is key

When your children talk to you about day-to-day things, where possible, stop what you are doing and listen.

Be supportive and encourage them to talk.

You don’t have to know everything about their life. However, you do need to try to keep in touch with what is happening on a day-to-day basis. Try to make it clear that your children can talk with you no matter what the topic.

Ask yourself

  • Are there times each day when you are able to share some time to chat with your children?
  • Do you try to let your children know that you are really interested in what they have to say?

Communicating: everyday moments

Kids will choose their own moments to open up to you and these may be unexpected.

It might happen when you’re washing up or driving the car. When they do choose their moments, even to talk about day-to-day things, stop what you are doing and really listen.

Ask yourself

  • Do I talk ‘to’ my kids or ‘with’ them?
  • When I talk with my kids, do I also really listen to them?
  • Do I stop what I am doing and give them my undivided attention?


You can’t impose on kids your own timing and expect that they will open up then. You just have to wait for that moment when they want to talk. It might happen when you’re washing up, when you’re driving the car or maybe late at night when they walk into your study.” – Sue Le Souef, solicitor.

Communicating: active listening

Sometimes your children may not tell you that they are being bullied, but by listening to them you can tell if they are happy or if something is bothering them.

Listen to your children to find out how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives. If they are having difficulties online for example, listen for louder or more angry computer key strikes or different or negative moods whenever they come off using the computer

Parents can also teach children how to listen well by demonstrating good listening skills.

As children move closer to adolescence they may appear to not want to talk as much with their parents.  This does not mean they don’t want to talk to their parents. Nor does it mean they have nothing to say.  It is important at this time for parents to not give up and keep asking questions and talking on a regular basis. This helps children to feel supported during these changing times.  Children who feel their parents are always available when they need them usually feel close to and like being a member of the family. This feeling of closeness between family members helps to protect children from many problems, including bullying.

Listening to your children you to find out how they are feeling and what is going on their lives. Sometimes a child may not tell you that they are being bullied, but by listening to them you can tell if they are happy or if something is bothering them.

Parents can also teach children how to listen well by demonstrating good listening skills.

To listen well:

  • Look at the person who is talking and occasionally nod or say “yes” or do something that signals you have understood;
  • Stand or sit still while you are listening;
  • Pay attention and think carefully about what is being said; and
  • When the other person stops speaking show you have listened by asking a good reflective question based on what they have just said. For example: “So, what you’re saying is, you would rather I didn’t coach you on the way to basketball because it is putting too much pressure on you”.
  • Look at the person who is talking and occasionally nod or say “yes” or something that signals you have understood.
  • Stand or sit still while you are listening
  • Pay attention and think about what is being said carefully.
  • When the other person stops speaking show that you have really listened by asking a good question based on what they have just said.

 

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have open communication with my kids?
  • Do you ask questions that stimulate conversation?
  • Am I building a relationship of trust and security through my communication with them?

Communicating: open lines of communication

When your kids feel like you are communicating well and listening regularly, this helps them to know you will continue to listen and understand them when difficult issues arise.

A good way to encourage your children to talk with you is to use open-ended questions. These questions encourage children to talk because they ask for more than just a “yes” or “no” answer.

An example of an open question might be “What did you do on the weekend? This is a question that allows for an interesting answer: “I had a sleepover at my friend’s house and we went to the movies rode our bikes.”

A closed question in the same situation, such as “Did you have a nice weekend? only allows for a brief answer: “Yes”.

Closed-ended question       Open-ended question
Did you have a good day? What happened today?
How was school? What did you do at school today?
You look sad. Are you alright? How are you feeling? You look sad.
Did you play today? Who did you play with today?

What did you do at recess today?

Conversation starters – with primary school children
Not sure how to get your kids talking? Try asking the following:

  • How am I doing as your dad (or other appropriate father-figure title)? What could I be doing better?
  • If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? Why?
  • If you could go back or forward in time, where would you go? Why? Would you want to stay there always, or just visit? Why?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why? Would you want to stay there always, or just visit? Why?

Conversation starters – with secondary school children
Not sure how to get your teenagers talking? Try the following:

  • Ask “how am I doing as your dad (or other appropriate father-figure title)?” and “what could I be doing better?”
  • Compare notes on football or other sporting teams
  • Ask them to explain something they are interested in (a computer game, say, or a genre of music)Discuss current events and why they have occurred

Communicating: talking about difficult or awkward topics

It’s important your kids know that they can talk to you about anything this will prevent them bottling things up or leaving trauma or emotions un-processed.

Regularly talking with and listening to your children helps them to know they can talk with you about both the positive, and the more challenging parts of their day.

Let your children know you are always interested in what is going on in their lives, not only when they are in trouble or having problems

Show you are interested in hearing about their interests and issues. Ask questions about their interests (friends, hobbies, favourite websites)

Make sure to deliberately listen, even if you are busy or in a rush.

Try to arrange times when you can walk or sit side-by-side and cha Regularly talking with and listening to your children helps them to know they can talk with you about the positive and the more challenging parts of their day.

Let your children know you are always interested in what is going on in their lives, not only when they are in trouble or having problems

Try to arrange times when you can walk or sit side-by-side and chat. This is a more relaxed way to have a conversation and enables your children to feel more comfortable talking with you about difficult topics. Travelling in the car is a good place for a chat.

This is a more relaxed way to have a conversation and enables your children to feel more comfortable talking with you about difficult topics. Travelling in the car is a good place for a chat.

Communicating: practical tips for dads and father-figures

  • Show your child you enjoy talking with them.
  • Make sure to deliberately listen, even if you are busy or in a rush.
  • Ask your children their opinion on events, issues and general daily proceedings, so they feel their opinion is valued.
  • Show you are interested in hearing about their interests and issues. Ask questions about their interests (friends, hobbies, favourite websites)
  • Praise your children when they open up to you and have a sincere discussion. Let them know you value their input and openness.
  • Encourage and role model positive language. For example:
    I really like the way you asked your brother if you could play his game.
    It is great to see you talking to your friends in such a caring way
  • The more everyday moments you spend with your child the more opportunities it creates for them to talk to you when you are ready
  • Arrange opportunities to share time with your children when you can talk while doing an activity together; cooking, craft, going to the football with you.
  • Ask your children their opinion on events, issues and general daily proceedings, so they feel their opinion is valued.
  • Let you children know that it is not just when they are in trouble or having problems that you want to know what is going on in their lives.
  • Arrange opportunities to share time with your children when you can talk while doing an activity together; cooking, craft, going to the football with you.
  • Ask your children their opinion on events, issues and general daily proceedings, so they feel their opinion is valued.
  • Praise your children when they open up to you and have a sincere discussion. Let them know you value their input and openness.
  • Encourage and role model positive language. For example:
  • I really like the way you asked your brother if you could play his game.
  • It is great to see you treating your friends in such a caring way