Create opportunities for your child to solve the problems she may be facing. Encourage and guide her. Ask her to bounce ideas off you, which might eventually suggest solutions to problems.
When parents are active listeners, other people may describe them as having good intuition and as being "tuned in" to their children. The process of active listening will help your child understand her feelings and be less afraid of the negative ones. It will build bridges and create warmth between you and your child. It will also help her solve her own problems and gain more control over her behavior and emotions. And if your child sees you as an active listener, this will make her more willing to listen to you and to others.
You can monitor how actively you are listening by watching for cues that you are not listening well. If you find yourself feeling bored by the conversation, distracted, looking around or away, or feeling rushed, or if you feel that you are wasting time, you are not listening actively.
Even when you think you and your child are doing a good job of listening and communicating, it is a good idea to test that impression occasionally. You can ask her to repeat as best she can what you have been trying to say—either the words or the feelings. Similarly, you should try to summarize and restate what it is that you heard her say.
As you talk to your child, you should try to make it a positive dialogue, rather than impose judgment or place blame. That usually means choosing "I" messages rather than "you" messages, especially when attempting to change or encourage certain behavior.
"I" messages are statements like "I sure have trouble finding things on my desk when it hasn't been straightened up by the last person who used it." "I need more quiet when I am trying to read." "Since I am so tired, I sure would like some help cleaning up the dinner dishes."
These "I" statements communicate the effect of a child's behavior or actions upon the parent. But they are less threatening to a child than "you" messages, even though they still convey an honest feeling or message. They also communicate just how a child's behavior affects her parents and encourage her to take responsibility for straightening up Dad's desk or helping clean up the kitchen. They communicate trust—showing the parents' willingness to express their own feelings and their belief that their child will respond in a positive, responsible way.
By contrast, "you" messages are statements like "You should never do that." "You make me so angry." "Why don't you pay attention?" These messages are more child-focused and are more likely to create a struggle between you and your youngster, put a child on the defensive, encourage personal counterarguments, and discourage effective communication.
Even worse are the "put-down" messages that judge or criticize a youngster. They might involve name-calling, ridiculing, or embarrassing the child. These messages can have a serious negative impact on the youngster and on her self-esteem. If you communicate the message that your child is bad, stupid, inconsiderate, a disappointment, or a failure, that is how she is likely to perceive herself, not only during her childhood but for many years thereafter.
With "I" statements, however, children do get the message in a more positive light. They often say things like "I didn't realize that the noise I was making was bothering you." Or "I'm glad you told me you were so tired. I'll help you with an extra chore or two." Children often readily assume more responsible roles if they are made aware of the situation and the feelings and needs of others, and are not "put down" in the process.
Of course, even with "I" messages you are not guaranteed success. Children may disregard the message, particularly when you first begin to make use of "I" statements. If this happens, repeat your "I" message, maybe saying it in a different way and with greater intensity. Be willing to say something like "This is how I feel, and I do not appreciate having my feelings ignored."
If you have consistently shown yourself to be receptive to and respectful of your child's feelings and thoughts, she will probably be more responsive to your own "I" statements. Give it some time. Middle-years children usually catch on relatively quickly.
Also, as you communicate with your youngster, be sensitive to your tone of voice. It should be consistent with your message. Do not let your emotions confuse the message you are trying to convey.
Be as consistent as possible with all your children. You should have the same communication approach and style with every child, although the unique aspects of each relationship and each child's temperament may require some modifications. Do not appear to play favorites or be more accepting of one youngster than another.