Communicating With Our Kids: Core Conditions

I used to teach a college course on Interviewing Skills based on Carl Rogers’ person-centered approach.  As I  studied and taught this method,  I have become a firm believer that using these techniques can help us improve our communication with the people in our everyday lives, especially our children.

I’d like to share these tools with you in series of posts.  Today I want to focus on the first 3 essential tools to have as a parent when communicating with our kids.

Let me define what I mean by communication first.

Communication: conversations that you have with your children when you are not necessarily “parenting.”

1. Empathy

What is empathy?  It’s the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from your child’s point of view.

Why is it important? Empathy allows us to connect to our children in a different way.  It allows us to enter their world and meet them where they are.  Additionally, when you work to understand where your child is coming from and why they are doing/saying/thinking what they are, it becomes easier to approach them and the situation from a place of love.

That said, here are some things to avoid saying:
“I know how you feel.”

“I understand.”

“I’ve been through the same type of thing.”

“That must have been terrible.”

“You poor thing.”

“That’s awful.”

These statements display sympathy and contain judgment.

Instead, try:

“I can see this is very upsetting for you.”

“I would be angry at her, too, if she had done that to me.”

“You’re really excited about getting an A.  I would be excited, too!”


Congruence = Authenticity; your thoughts, feelings, and behavior match.  You are comfortable with yourself, you aren’t afraid to be spontaneous, and you are willing to be honest.  Depending on the situation and the child, you are also willing to self-disclose.

Congruence allows us to respond to our child with genuineness. It also allows us to set aside our needs to focus on them.

In terms of self-disclosure, we each have to decide what is appropriate to tell our children.  We should also remember that telling them this information isn’t about us, it’s about them.  Will disclosing this information be beneficial to them or does it make us feel better to disclose it?  If it’s about us, we need to keep it to ourselves.

For example, your teenager is talking about peer pressure at school.  You have your own experience with peer pressure and how you handled it.  You want to tell your teen about this experience because a) you felt you dealt with it in a way that makes you look good to child or b) telling your child will let them know that they are not alone in this.  If it’s “a,” keep it to yourself!

3. Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard = not judging your child.

Your child is the BEST authority on their experiences.  When communicating with them, do so with warmth, respect, and a non-judgmental attitude.  This allows them to SAFELY explore their self-doubts, insecurities, and weaknesses.

This requires us to set aside our own judgments in order to truly listen and respond with empathy.

Now, I recognize the need to parent–to teach our children our beliefs and morals and ways of behaving.  Remember, though, that we are setting aside our parenting for a moment in order to truly communicate with our kid.

For example, with my teenage son, we have made it clear that we expect him to use appropriate language.  That said, when my focus is on communication, I allow him to say whatever he needs to say to express himself and his experience.  He knows the ground rules.  Outside of our communication moments, he is expected to behave a certain way, but during our communication moments, he is allowed to swear and to say what he needs to say without fear of judgment or repercussions.

You may disagree with me on this, and that’s okay.  I have found, however, that allowing my son to do this means he is more willing to be open about what he is feeling and experiencing.  Sometimes he doesn’t have the vocabulary to express himself in a more appropriate manner.  That’s okay.  That is something we can work on during parenting time.

This works.  My son knows that he can come to me with anything.  He knows I will listen and love him no matter what.  These moments allow me to parent him easier later on because he knows that my parenting is coming from a place of love and respect.

Originally published by the author on The Pink Factor.