This article was written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, with contributions by Youth Advisory Board member Justin Robinson.
When, Where, and How to Have Important Conversations With Parents
Important conversations can be difficult — that difficulty often reflects their importance. It’s hard to bring up topics like getting in trouble at school, asking for more independence, or talking about relationships, but it’s important to talk about these kinds of issues with your parents. When, where, and how you have these conversations can make all the difference.
Many conversations that will have a big impact on your life may feel like a one-way street. But there are approaches to tackling tough topics that can make a big difference in the conversation outcome and on your relationships. Think about the communication strategies offered here and work towards having two-way conversations when you talk about tough subjects.
Have a Strategy for Time and Place
Thoughtfully pick the time and place to bring up tricky subjects. Think about the times when you and your parents or guardians will already be together but neither of you will feel put on the spot. Think about the times of the day when everyone has the most energy and might be most willing to talk.
Having something to do with your hands can relieve some of the pressure. For instance, you could shuffle cards, fold laundry, or even squeeze a stress ball. Also, make sure that you bring up hard subjects in private. You don’t need (or want) an audience to contribute to what could become a heated discussion.
Think it Through Before Starting the Talk
Your parents will respond best to well thought-out ideas. When you are emotional, it’s easy to forget what you want to say. Consider writing down the main points you want to get across before talking. Remember to explain why you are upset. Propose a reasonable solution. Don’t just suggest a rule is unfair or complain that everyone else is doing something you’re not allowed to do. Plan ahead, think through your points, and explain why you think and feel a certain way.
Read the Room
Look around before talking and take in the mood of the room. If roles were reversed, when would you be most open to receiving criticism or hearing about others’ personal problems? Think about how you feel when your parents bombard you with questions when you’ve just come home from school. Consider how the same feeling could arise in your parents. Don’t forget to take into consideration the bigger picture of what’s going on in your parents’ lives at the time.
Look at Things From Parents’ Point of View
Sometimes it may seem like your parents are telling you what to do or how to behave, instead of opening up a discussion and listening to your opinions. Understand that your parents are adjusting to your growing independence as well. And remember it is your parent’s job to keep you safe and to prepare you to be successful. When you understand where your parents are coming from, they are more likely to return the same kind of understanding and respect.
Have Realistic Expectations
During important conversations, make sure to establish reasonable and realistic expectations of what you hope to get out of it. When you talk about a difficult topic, know that everything may not go your way. Try to avoid reacting emotionally. Miscommunications often stem from one person not taking the time to really hear what the other person is saying. Stay calm and listen. Be prepared to admit you’re wrong or have made a mistake.
Here are some brief reminders to review before diving into an important conversation.
- Establish a good time to have the conversation before you begin the talk. Avoid times where either you or your parents are highly stressed or preoccupied. You may want to take this one step further and actually schedule regular conversation times and locations so no one is caught off guard. It helps if these kinds of talks become commonplace.
- Spend just as much time listening as talking. Try to split the conversation focus between yourself and your parent — it will allow you both to get your points across and may help you both avoid getting defensive.
- Remain calm. If you can’t remain calm during the conversation, wait to have it until you can. If you find yourself unable to control your anger during the conversation, step away. You could say, “I need a few minutes to calm down. Can we talk later?”
- Pick a neutral place to talk. Never have important conversations in front of friends or in public. Consider talking in the car or on a walk.
- Plan ahead. Write out or think through what you want to say. Have realistic expectations.
- Stay focused on the present issue. Bringing up the past almost always backfires because it makes people feel more defensive and less productive. You can’t fix the past, but you can work on a current problem.
We hope these tips will help you out when it’s time to have hard conversations with your parents. Feel free to pass these tips along to others who may be struggling.
Thoughts from Members of the Youth Advisory Board
“When I tried to engage in an important conversation with my mother, nothing would ever go right. When we tried to engage in an important conversation during the school week, I would be agitated from my workload, so it probably wasn’t the best time. The conversation would either end with me thinking that her expectations may have been too high, or I would never really take out the time to listen because I was so tense.
So then, we tried something different. We would drive in a car, or take a relaxing walk in the neighborhood. We would observe what was happening around, whether that involved looking at nature or talking about what was happening in the world currently. We would then talk about what was happening in our lives which would later evolve into an important conversation with a calm environment.”