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More Effective Communication with Children - Part 6
Robert Elias Najemy


A twelve-year-old is sent home by a teacher with a note stating that he was speaking loudly, using "filthy" language. What might be the parentsĒ reaction?

One might be, "Come here and explain to me why you want to embarrass your parents with your filthy mouth". Another would be to simply punish the child with no discussion. Another might be to degrade the childĒs image of himself by criticizing him for his various mistakes and faults in general.

All of these express to some extent the feelings that we may have. But they are not effective communication, because they do not express all our feelings and serve only to make the child feel badly, without offering any opportunity for understanding what the childĒs problem is in reality.

Obviously, the child has some need to speak in that way. He may have some problem or a need for attention or recognition. When we focus only on our own embarrassment and fear, and ignore what might be going on in the child at this time, we lose contact with the child.

The child knows he has made a mistake, but he is unable to deal with the forces, which cause him to act in this way. His way of speaking at school was either an outlet for some inner tension or resentment or an attempt for attention or recognition. We would do better to discuss our feelings about the situation with the child and try to help the child to open up so that we may discover what is going on in the childĒs mind.

A possible communication might be something like this:

"George, I have a strong need to talk about this note with you. I am very concerned both for you and me. I am shocked and surprised, and I must admit a bit embarrassed in the eyes of others. But these are my problems. What concerns me most is that I also feel that maybe I have made some mistake in my attitude towards you. I feel somehow responsible for your behavior since I am your parent, and I wonder if I am doing a good job or not in bringing you up the way I do. I would like to try to understand.

"Please explain to me the events which happened at school and what was that made you feel the need to speak loudly and in that way. I would also like to know if there is something that I do which has contributed towards your feeling that you must express yourself in that way. I would also like you to tell me if there is anything that I can do to help you to feel more comfortable and happier".

The child may or may not open up. He may or may not be able to understand consciously what his problem is. In most cases, with the help of active listening the child will come to an understanding of what is going on within him.


A mother arrives home tired and upset after work and a variety of other chores. Upon entering the house she finds everything to be in a mess. She had asked the children to keep the house clean because there would be visitors coming over that evening. What kind of message might she give?

Of course she will feel disappointed, let down, ignored, rejected, the victim, and most likely, upset and angry. She might blame the children for being so inconsiderate, irresponsible, for not loving her, for not respecting her. This type of blaming will simply reinforce in the childrenĒs minds the idea that they are as she has described them - "not okay, not responsible and not to be trusted". They will then continue to be just that way.

A possible communication might be something like this:

"Children, come and sit down. I want to explain to you some things which are very important to me. I feel very disillusioned this moment. On the one hand, I feel let down. I was counting on your remembering my request that you be careful and keep the house clean and tidy. I am tired and I am worried about receiving these guests this evening. It is important for me that the house be clean when they arrive but I am too tired to do it at this moment.

"I also doubt whether I am bringing you up the right way when I see, at times like this, that you do not consider my requests for help and cooperation. I understand that when you play it is easy to forget such requests, but I ask you to try harder in the future, because I need your help. Now, I would be interested in your suggesting some way by which we can avoid this happening in the future".

After a discussion takes place as to how such situations could be avoided in the future, the mother can ask the children to now please help her by putting the place in order and cleaning up so that she can relax and get ready for the guests who are coming.

The key to effective communication is to look into ourselves and think about what we are really feeling and express that clearly and openly to the other, without hiding anything and without blaming or intending to hurt the others. After expressing how we feel, we express what we need and give the other a chance to express his or her feelings on the subject.

Robert Elias Najemy is the author of 20 books. He is the founder and director of the Center for Harmonious Living in Athens, Greece. He has lectured over 25,000 hours and has worked with around 20,000 persons through personal appointments, classes and seminars. His book The Psychology of Happiness is available at:

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