6 Tips For Talking to Your Kids that I Learned in Marriage Therapy


Marriage Therapy: not just for adults!

I am a big believer in therapy. Having someone guide me through my emotions helps me stay sane. I sat through close to three years of marriage therapy with my ex-husband and while ultimately our marriage ended, I learned some pretty valuable lessons on how to talk to people.

So you may be thinking, why recommend communication tips from failed marriage counseling? Because believe it or not, the tips I learned work wonders with kids. These 6 things helped improved my communication with my kids so much, I just had to share!

1. Get below the surface.

Chances are, what your kid is screaming about is not the actual issue. Don’t get sucked in! Emotions are a reaction to stress. Listen THROUGH the anger, the tears, the snarky comments and see if you can hear the underlying issue. Are they anxious? Disappointed? Worried? Like a tree, under the ground lies the root of the problem.  

2. Acknowledge how they feel. 

It is so frustrating to not feel heard. Deep down kids want to know you’ve not only heard what they’ve said but that you GET it. Your child is mad and in their feelings about something. Try to acknowledge what they’re saying and, even better, try to understand how they feel. Acknowledgment has a magic way of diffusing anger and lowering a child’s immediate stress level. Mirror back what they say to them so they know you’ve got it:

“I hear you saying you hate my decision and I totally get it. It kind of sucks that you can’t do what you want and I can imagine that leaves you super bummed out.“

3. After you mirror their feelings, ask for more. 

After you’ve acknowledged their feelings and mirrored back to them what they’ve said, confirm with them. 
“I know you look forward to weekends after a long week at school and having to go to Grandma’s and skip the movies probably leaves you frustrated and wicked disappointed you can’t hang with your friends. Is that right?”

What’s better than your kid knowing you are in the trenches with them?  Now they don’t feel alone.  And ask them “Is there more?”  Make sure you’ve articulated their emotions correctly since there may be more to it that you’ve missed. Have them confirm that you’ve got it right and ask for clarification if you don’t. 

4. Listen more than talk. 

Parents really struggle here, myself included, so I’m going to say to you what I say to myself. If a teenager is actually talking about how they’re feeling, STOP TALKING AND REALLY LISTEN. We actually want our children to open up to us and if we talk, they’re going to stop. Don’t be a talking head. If we dive into some long lecture at the end of everything, we’re going to lose the impact of our listening.

5. Accept that it’s OK for someone to be mad at you. 

When someone I love is mad at me, I feel sick. Especially my kids. But if they’re mad at me because of a decision I made in the best interests of their safety, growth or long term happiness, too bad. I strive to accept their anger: letting it exist for them and letting it roll off my back. You’ll be friends someday but right now you need to be a parent. 

6. And finally, use love in communication. 

The other day my little one wanted to get a video game that her dad and I don’t think is appropriate. I told her that she couldn’t have it and she freaked out. 

“I understand why you are mad. You feel you can handle it and Mom doesn’t. I bet that makes you angry and disappointed and frustrated.” She just stared daggers at me. I said “I made this decision because someone could contact you and hurt you and I can’t allow that. I love you, dude and I know to a kid, sometimes Mommy’s way of showing love stinks but I hope someday you’ll understand.”

I promise you they hear us when we say we love them.
The next night, I was tucking the little one in and then she said “Mommy, I’m really mad that you didn’t give me that video game but at least I know you did it because you love me.”

There are no perfect parents. Each day we do what we feel is best and while it’s often thankless, every once in a while, you know they feel loved and protected and we can’t ask for much more than that.