No matter what way you slice it, parenting is hard. Sometimes it is so challenging that you want nothing more than to forget you even have kids, and run away to a beautiful island. You could spend the rest of your life selling seashell necklaces to make ends meet while you sleep on the beach, subsisting on coconuts and sunshine for the rest of your days.

Sorry, it isn’t going to happen. Those little munchkins, lovable as they are, can be be hard to deal with especially as the lines of communication breaks down. As your children become older, it may become even more difficult to communicate effectively, and you are lucky to get more than a nonspecific grunt out of them. Talking about serious issues,such as depression, drug abuse, sex or even suicide can be even more difficult.

What the Experts Have to Say

We are the moral compass that directs our children. There is a lot of pressure on parents to address major topics and keep their kids informed about the world while remaining prepared for any challenge that may arise. So it is up to us to talk to them about bigotry, bullying, sex ed, and major events like the horrific Las Vegas shooting. Parents shouldn’t shy away from these topics, no matter how difficult it can be to start the conversation.

Most experts agree that speaking to children through their lives is one of the most important things we can do for their development into adults. While there is no foolproof, 100% guaranteed correct way to speak to your children, there are some tips to make it easier.

  1. Listen
  2. The biggest step in an active and compassionate conversation is one we so often forget: listening. As parents, we want to solve our children’s problems. We want to apply our own experiences to their own and say we have done and seen it all. But they live in a world different than the one we grew up in, and they are allowed to have their own feelings, opinions, and perspectives. Just listen to them and see how that will improve your communication with your children.

  3. Understand
  4. Empathizing is crucial in communicating with anyone. It can be hard to see our children as separate people because in our eyes they are our babies, the little bundles we brought home from the hospital. But they are their own person and we have to understand that and their unique views on their situation.

    Sometimes you may not be able to empathize. However, even if you haven’t shared all your child’s struggles, you can still be understanding. It may be difficult at times, especially if your child is struggling with suicidal thoughts or other mental illnesses. Do your best to support them and make sure your child knows you will be there for them when they need to talk.

  5. Reciprocate
  6. You shouldn’t always act like you have felt what they are because maybe you haven’t. Instead, tell them about a time that was similar from your own past so you can show them that you are being open with them in return. It isn’t a competition or even an attempt to show you get it because you’ve been there. It is a chance to make them feel like you respect them enough to share, instead of expecting them to for nothing.

When it comes to improving the quality of communication you have with your children, much of the work will start on your end. But if you dedicate yourself to listening, understanding, and reciprocating, you may find yourself startled with how quickly the conversations improve.