As parents, we all want to have strong and positive relationships with our children. However, even the best intentions can sometimes result in communication breakdowns between parents and children. It can feel like you are at an impasse and that your child or teen is a tyrant! Hey, we all have been there!
Clinical and neurodevelopmental issues such as ADHD, executive functioning dysfunction, anxiety, mood disorder, OCD, or PANS/PANDAS can add another layer of complication to parent-child communication.
Recently, I was working with a family with a daughter who had ADHD, and mom and dad were so frustrated with her inability to communicate. What we unlocked with that Zina was so afraid of perceived or real criticism that she just shut everyone out. Once we understood what the real issue was, we worked together to help mom and dad adjust their body language and tone to Zina's Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria.
Over time, the conflict went down, healthy communication went up, and Zina and her parents were able to connect more. Having patience and being consistent in your shaping and reinforcement of healthy communication is how to build a solid parent-child relationship.
Understanding why these breakdowns occur can help us to prevent them and maintain healthy and productive relationships with our children. It is important to recognize even when it feels like your kid will never listen, communication in every relationship can be improved.
Reasons Why Parent and Child Communication Breaks Down
Lack of active listening
One of the most common reasons for communication breakdowns between parents and children is a lack of active listening. Parents may be distracted, preoccupied, or simply not paying attention to what their children are saying, which can lead to misunderstandings and frustration. It is easy to be on your phone or working from home and miss those opportunities to have a deeper conversation with your child.
Criticism and negativity
Another common cause of communication breakdowns is the use of criticism and negative language. When children feel criticized, they may become defensive and less likely to communicate openly, leading to a breakdown in communication. It is very easy to point out what your child is doing wrong instead of focusing on those micro-steps of what they are doing right. That message of doing “wrong” gets sent to our kids in our tone of voice and body language and builds a wall in our communication.
Lack of empathy
Children often need to feel heard and understood, and when parents are not able to show empathy and understanding for their feelings, communication can become strained. We all are stressed out, and that means we just won't be as mentally available to have the patience for our kids. Children may then become reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings with their parents when they feel their parent's stress, leading to a breakdown in communication.
Different communication styles
Different communication styles can also lead to breakdowns in communication. For example, some children may be more introverted and need more time to process their thoughts and feelings, while others may be more expressive and need to communicate frequently. As adults, we have to meet kids where they are at.
That doesn't mean kids are being “manipulative” or “doing it on purpose.” Rather, it means we have to speak to kids in a way they can hear us. Understanding these differences can help parents to tailor their communication to better meet their children's needs.
Disagreements and conflicts
Disagreements and conflicts are a normal part of any relationship, including parent-child relationships. However, when these conflicts are not handled in a constructive and respectful manner on both sides, they can lead to breakdowns in communication.
It is important for parents to recognize that kids with clinical or neurodevelopmental issues, such as ADHD, anxiety, mood disorder, OCD, or PANS/PANDAS, may not have the impulse control or coping skills to communicate their frustrations or needs. They will need extra reinforcement and patience but can learn healthy communication skills.
Busy and stressful lives
The demands of modern life with a busy schedule can make it difficult for parents to find time for quality communication with their children. When parents are constantly stressed and overwhelmed, they may struggle to connect with their children, leading to breakdowns in communication. It is important to self-regulate by calming the brain so you can share your own calm. That may be harder when you have a special needs child or a child with a clinical issue, but you can do it!
Technology and social media
The increased use of technology and social media can also impact communication between parents and children. For example, children, teens, and parents may spend more time on their devices, leading to less face-to-face interaction and communication breakdowns.
The battle over managing screen time usage is real! Putting down your device and speaking to your child when they aren't in the middle of Minecraft will go a long way in healthy conversations.
Changing developmental stages
As children grow and develop, their communication needs and styles may change, which can also contribute to breakdowns in communication. For example, teenage children may start to assert their independence and challenge their parents, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. Parents shouldn't take this personally and instead look for ways to build healthy communication skills.
What Does the Research Say About the Source of Parents and Child Communication Issues?
Parent-child communication is an important aspect of family life and can have a significant impact on the child's development and well-being. However, it's not uncommon for communication to break down between parents and children, leading to misunderstandings, conflict, and emotional distress. Research suggests that there are several reasons why parents and their children have communication issues, including:
As children grow and develop, their communication needs and abilities change. Parents may struggle to adjust their communication styles to match their child's changing needs, which can lead to misunderstandings and conflict.
Changing family dynamics:
Changes in family dynamics, such as the arrival of a new sibling, divorce, or remarriage, can also disrupt communication between parents and children, especially if a new member of the family, such as a step-parent or step-sibling, is added. Stressful events, such as bad grades, divorce, financial difficulties, or health problems, can create emotional stress that makes it difficult for parents and children to communicate effectively.
Differences in values and beliefs:
Parents and children may have different beliefs and values, which can cause conflict and create barriers to effective communication. With an ever-changing world with many influences, it can be hard for parents to feel comfortable with the changes and conflict with their child over family values. It is important to have non-negotiable family anchors, as I like to call them because these lay the foundation for future generations.
Technology and social media:
The increased use of technology and social media has led to a decline in face-to-face communication and an increase in distractions that can hinder meaningful conversations between parents and children.
Lack of parental involvement:
Research has shown that parental involvement in their children's lives is essential for healthy communication and relationships. When parents are not actively engaged in their children's lives, communication can break down.
These are just a few of the factors that can contribute to breakdowns in communication between parents and children. It is important for parents to be aware of these factors to improve communication and restore positive relationships and work to address them through active listening, open communication, and a commitment to building positive relationships with their children.
By being mindful of these potential causes and making a conscious effort to listen actively, show empathy, and communicate respectfully, parents can help to prevent communication breakdowns and foster positive relationships with their children. Open and honest communication is key to building strong and healthy parent-child relationships, and with effort and patience, parents can ensure that their children feel heard and understood.
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Wymbs B. T. (2011). Mechanisms underlying the influence of disruptive child behavior on interparental communication. Journal of family psychology: JFP: journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 25(6), 873–884. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025372
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