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Positive communication with school-age children is built on time, listening, respect – and persistence.

Find time to talk. With a school-age child, you won’t have as many opportunities for conversation as you did with your preschooler. As your child grows up, your child might turn to you less frequently. So you might need to make a special effort to spend time together.

Speak to your school-age child in a mature way. School-age kids want their ‘bigness’ acknowledged. They might be offended if they feel they are being spoken to like babies (even if they happen to be acting like them). You might say, ‘I expect you to do your homework. What time would you like to do it?’ instead of ‘How many times do I have to tell you to do your book report!’

Show your child respect. One way is to ask children for help in understanding them and their needs. If you acknowledge that children have some information you don’t have, they will know you respect them, even though you’re making final decisions.

Ask specific, rather than general questions. Instead of asking a question such as ‘How was school?’ you might ask, ‘Did your teacher give you comments on your science project?’ Also avoid leading questions. A query such as, ‘Do you think it’s appropriate to talk to me that way?’ often backfires. Instead, you might say, ‘I feel angry when you talk to me that way’.

Listen without contradicting your child. Instead of saying, ‘That’s ridiculous’, you might simply say, ‘Hmm’ or ‘Really’. Then ask specific questions based on the situation your child has described.

Repeat what you heard your child say, but in a more mature way. You can reflect your child’s statement in the form of a question. This suggests that you’re asking, ‘Am I getting this right?’ In this way, you’re respecting your child’s intelligence, making your child feel understood, and encouraging your child to tell you more. You might say, ‘So, you think your teacher is stupid, but you don’t want me to intervene? Can you tell me what you are upset about?’

Laugh a little and admit your mistakes. At times, humour is the best way to resolve a dispute, react to an upset, or make a request of your school-age child. You can also ask your child for help in figuring out what to do. Kids love to hear parents admit they were wrong. You might say, ‘Am I making a mess of this? Should we try to figure it out a different way?’

Ask children to help set their own limits. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when your school-age child (or you) needs it. But, within reason, your child can make some rules, too. For instance, you might ask your child to propose a reasonable time to begin homework. ‘Discuss it and then back off’, recommends Gillian McNamee, PhD. ‘Ask your child to be the boss of deciding what help is given, how much and when (in accordance with the teacher’s instructions)’. In this way, you help children to feel in control of their world.

Keep talking even if your child won't talk to you. ‘You will feel at times that you have lost your credibility with a school-age child’, comments Michael Thompson, PhD. ‘If you take silence or impulsive remarks personally, things can go quite badly. But they are often simply trying to establish their independence.’

Pause for a moment before you respond
School-age children want to feel that their parents are listening to, acknowledging and considering what’s on their minds. Pausing for a moment to consider an idea lets your child know you are taking him seriously. Even if your answer will be ‘No’, you might say, ‘Let me think about that for a minute’ or ‘Will you tell me that again?’
– Michael Thompson, PhD, co-author of Raising Cain
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  • Last updated or reviewed 26-05-2010
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    © 2002-2006 Public Broadcasting Service.  Reprinted from with permission of the Public Broadcasting Service.