Open communication results in each family member feeling loved and respected. It also makes it easier to handle conflicts when they arise. The basics of resolving disagreements include listening, empathy, supportive communication, and collaborative problem-solving.

Make conversation a priority with your kids. Open and comfortable communication develops confidence, self-esteem, cooperation, as well as healthy and warm relationships. Take the time and effort to foster your relationship and communication skills by talking with your kids as much as you can. Remember that talking with kids is a two-way street. Talk with them and then listen to what they have to say; listening is as essential as speaking.

Make time for one-on-one conversations; this is especially important if there is an age gap between your children. Sometimes older siblings talk over the younger ones, and sometimes the younger ones prefer to let the older siblings do the talking. Conversations with older siblings can sometimes be above the younger kid’s level of understanding. Additionally, older siblings require stimulating discussions where they can learn and inquire for more information. Therefore, try to get some one-on-one time with your children so you can speak to them at their level and use appropriate vocabulary. It might be while walking to the park, reading a book together before bed, or driving to get ice cream. It doesn’t have to be structured time; try to make use of opportunities as they arise.

Ask open-ended questions to improve communication with your children. If you want your kids to open their minds and think more, ask them open-ended questions. Such questions are not answered with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. These types of questions are invitations to say more as well as share their ideas and feelings. For example, instead of asking “Did you enjoy Peter’s party today?” you could ask, “What was the best part of Peter’s party today?” Respond to their ideas to show them you are interested in what they have to say by using phrases such as:

I understand.
What about…
That interesting!

Empathy is one of those strange qualities – something almost everyone wants, but few know how to truly give or receive. In a world where self-gratification is emphasized, it is in short supply but high demand; this is all the more reason to teach the next generation what it means to have empathy for those around them.

Many people confuse sympathy and empathy, but they are two distinct values. Empathy is not just the ability to understand someone’s feelings. Criminals often take advantage of people by appearing to understand their feelings and subsequently gaining their trust. Having empathy is more than that. Not only is it the ability to recognize how someone feels, but it also values and respects the feelings of another person. It means treating others with kindness, dignity, and understanding.

In most cases, kids need to see empathy modeled by the adults around them. It begins with the way parents relate to their children. Parents who show an interest in the things that matter to their kids and respond to emotions in a positive and caring way are teaching the skill of empathy.

Finally, make sure you look for opportunities throughout the day to take a moment to communicate a word of praise and to simply say, “I love you.”