4 Tips For Building Close Communication With Your Child

I’m not a parenting expert. I don’t even play one on TV. I may occasionally start talking like I know it all and the next the day my kids put me back in my place by defying all acceptable codes of behaviour.

Now that my boys are teenagers I can see one particular area where I might deserve a gold star.


It’s important that my kids know they can talk to me about anything.

I never felt that way growing up. It’s sad to read my old diaries from age 10 to 18.

I lied and kept secrets. I snuck around behind my mother’s back. I didn’t feel I had anyone I could talk to.

I don’t want my own kids to feel that way.

So I’ve always been an open book with them. I share how I’m feeling, the ups and downs of my day and stories of my childhood so they realise I was once a kid too and I remember what it was like.

I’ve told them to preface tricky conversations with, ‘I want to tell you something but I don’t want you to get mad’, which gives me a chance to take a deep breath and listen without getting mad.

And they seem to tell me what’s going on in their lives.

A good relationship with your child gets you through the hard times and creates more good times. The more connected you are with your child, the more tuned-in you become. You’ll notice the signs if something’s wrong. The more connected they feel to you, the more they’ll open up to you.

Children who feel a special connection with their parents are more likely to see them as being on their side rather than against them. This comes in very handy in the teenage years, believe me.

My Top 4 Tips for Building Close Communication With Your Child

1. Truly listen.

Listening builds trust. The more your child feels they can talk to you about anything the better. If a child feels cut-off too often or afraid to ask questions, the chances of them opening up to you later will be slim.

Keep the door to communication wide open now so when they become teenagers (and the door naturally closes more), there’ll still be a crack left open for you to get inside.

Show interest when your child speaks to you. This means looking up from your phone, computer, newspaper, the TV. Older children and teens are particularly put off talking when they don’t feel they have your full attention.

2. Ask questions and share.

Ask questions which require more than a one-word response. ‘How was your day?’ is only going to elicit a one-word answer. ‘Who did you play with today?’ or  “How was that science test? Was it as hard as you thought it would be?” gives more scope for a real conversation. Don’t ask the same questions every day.

Share about your own day. Our kids are in their own world and don’t usually think about what we’ve been up to. Talk about it in an upbeat tone so it doesn’t turn into a ‘who’s had the worse day’ competition.

Be open to what they say. Press pause on your reaction if you don’t like what you hear. Don’t turn every conversation into a lecture. Resist pushing or prodding for information.

If you’re overly involved in solving their problems for them or turning small things into big issues, they may not come to you if they’re facing peer pressure or are in trouble. They need to trust that you won’t steam in and make things worse.

3. Eat as many meals together as possible.

As your child grows older and homework, friendships and extracurricular activities take over, having regular family meals brings you together.

Turn off the TV and establish a ‘no electronics at meal times’ policy. That includes you.

Squabbles are a normal part of family meals and are not a sign that you’re in a dysfunctional household. Think of it as a continuous opportunity to improve debating skills!

Sitting down and sharing an after school snack is another opportunity to have a chat about how your days went.

In restaurants, ban electronic devices. It’s sad to see families sitting together, but absorbed in their own separate worlds instead of talking. If conversation is stilted, play a communication game to get it flowing. (see below)

4. Play communication games.

Fink Communication Cards are fun, thought-provoking question cards designed to get families talking. They’re great for starting conversations, learning about each other and helping children to positively improve their communication skills.

They’re the size of a deck of cards so they’re easy to take with you on-the-go. Great for long car journeys or waiting in restaurants.

There’s a wonderful ‘Mums Edition’ with the pack split in half – some questions for your child to ask you, the others for you to ask your child. They’ve also got a set designed especially for Teens who might be going through that mono-symbolic grunting stage.

There are loads of other packs to choose from, such as Conversations for the Early Years (for ages 2-7), Dealing With Dyslexia, and Talking About Divorce.  Fink are based in the UK and ship to anywhere in the world. (Click here to see the whole selection!)

Another game our family plays in restaurants is one my younger son made up called The Michael Jordon Game.

One person starts and says ‘Michael Jordan’. The person to their left has to name any famous person alive or dead who’s first name begins with J (for Jordan). Play passes around clockwise with the next person using the first letter of the previous last name. Example, Johnny Depp could be followed by David Beckham, then followed by Bradley Cooper. (Quite a fantasy line-up…) Lady Gaga could be followed by George Bush. You get the idea. If a double letter appears (Janet Jackson, Steven Spielberg) or someone goes by one name (Madonna, Rihanna, Prince) it reverses play to counterclockwise. (A bit like the reverse card in Uno.)

It’s easier for adults as we know more famous people, but when the kids don’t know someone we’ve said (Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill) it gives us a chance to talk about who they are. (And debate about whether they’re alive or dead!) And if parents don’t know the pop singer, YouTube star or athlete the kids have said, we learn something new too. Gotta be down with the kids! 

We play until the food comes, then stop. For younger ones there’s always I Spy With My Little Eye, something….. red. Or something that begins with ‘c’.

Keep the communication flowing everyone!

In the comments below, please let me know which of these tips you’re already using or want to start doing. Also, share your own tips and thoughts on building close communication with your child.

You can read about What Parenting Skills Classes Did To My Family here.

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  1. Joyce on October 19, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    Thank you for inspiring us once again with this one Kelly. I feel like I’m following in your wake. My boys are a lot younger than yours and you have the benefit of hindsight to know what’s worked and what hasn’t. So we get to ride off of that! I also loved your articles on getting kids to listen to you and how to stop shouting.

    I’m guilty of not looking up when they’re trying to tell me something and I’m absorbed in something else. And we’ve fallen into some very bad habits with screens at meal times. We are that family who sit in a restaurant and don’t talk sometimes. We will definitely try the Michael Jackson game and I’m going to look at these cards now because they sound brilliant. Thank you!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 19, 2015 at 12:07 PM

      Thanks for your lovely comment Joyce! You can ride off my tail anytime! I’ve always looked to friends who have older kids than mine to glean info that’ll help pave my way a bit smoother.

      The thing about habits is that once you’re aware of them and you decide you want to change them, it’s entirely possible to do. In my group programmes I offer a Habit Tracker. You choose good habits you want to create (to replace poor ones) and tick the box each time you do it. It takes time and perseverance and means not beating yourself up the 3 times you forget and feeling good about the 1 time you remember – and building on that.

      Let me know how you get on with the Michael Jackson game 🙂 and which set of Fink cards you go for! I’ve just ordered the Teen version.

  2. Zoe Hart on October 19, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    BRILLIANT!!! Loving the games suggestions. And feeling really pleased with myself for the fact that I’m already doing tips 1-3 🙂

  3. Louisa on October 19, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    Thanks, once again, Kelly for sharing your mama wisdom. Like Joyce mentioned above, I also feel like I’m following in your wake and it’s great to have these handy hints to learn from. Those are some game-changing tips there! I particularly like the idea about telling the boys they can always preface any tricky subjects with “I need to tell you something but I don’t want you to get angry”. I’m totally swiping that one for future use! I massively relate to your admission about your 10-17 year old diaries. I mostly can’t bear to read back on my old diaries, but that stage was a particularly tricky one for me too, and for similar reasons, I’m sure. Here’s to opening the door (a little) to help make sure our boys know their mama’s always there, no matter what. <3 <3 <3

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 19, 2015 at 1:11 PM

      Swipe away Louisa!! I love sharing what’s worked for me and I love hearing about how it works for others.

      Sorry to hear your old diaries also bring up bad crap. We mustn’t ever blame our own parents for the way they raised us. They were doing their best with what they had. And they certainly didn’t have a global network of other mothers to glean information from to learn about better ways. For them it was probably quite liberating to just parent instinctively without all of the guilt and questioning if they’re doing it ‘right’!!!

      And if we can turn our childhood stuff into learning experiences to make us better parents, then it’s all good. 🙂 xxx

      • Louisa on October 19, 2015 at 6:56 PM

        I totally agree, re. not blaming our parents. In fact, “they’re doing their best with what they have right now” has long been my mantra for reminding myself not to get all judgey whenever I witness a nasty public parenting fail. We’ve all been “that mum” some time or other! And we’re all just doing our best, muddling on through. With regards to my own parents, I’m mostly just massively grateful to them for all the amazing opportunities and their endless love and support -much better than blaming them for stuff that happened or didn’t happen decades ago. But I do so love to over-analyse stuff and try to learn from it, so Amen to it making us better parents! xxx

        • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 19, 2015 at 8:01 PM

          A good point about also not getting judgey on other parents. Love your mantra Louisa 🙂

  4. Zoe Hart on October 19, 2015 at 12:47 PM

    Also just to share with you one that my daughter made up, it’s called my name is…

    The first person starts by saying my name is ….. (and then what their name is) and then has to say 1 thing about themselves that the others didn’t know.
    or has to keep talking about themselves for 30 seconds, and you see who managed to say the most unique things during that time, doesn’t have to be stuff you didn’t already know though.

    I have been surprised to learn that my chidlrens favourite colour has changed several times in the last month as has their favourite teddy bears name and favourite food.
    This is also a good game for when guests come round.

    I run free family games mornings in Iver, South Bucks and West Drayton, Hillingdon where I play these sorts of games in order to encourage families to play together, communicate better and also get out of the house away from the TV. If I email you the details would you let your list know?

    Many thanks Kelly. Love xxx

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 19, 2015 at 1:04 PM

      Tell your daughter her game is GREAT and thanks to you sharing it here, her game will be played by lots of other families too!

      My mailing list is international so I don’t include local listings, but feel free to add your link right here in the comments Zoe (you’re sweet for asking me first and you have my permission!) Love the sound of what you’re doing to help promote family communication. 🙂

  5. Jo on October 19, 2015 at 1:03 PM

    Hi Kelly

    Great Blog! I love the cards and am ordering some of those. I too am guilty of not always looking up when my son talks to me and am conscious of that so no excuses (you’re not alone Joyce!) I’ll be looking up and giving him my full attention from now on.

    We play I-Spy and always have loads of fun with that. Love the idea of the Michael Jackson game so will be playing that. I agree, gotta stay down with the kids! Helps us to feel younger too!

    Have a great week xxd

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 19, 2015 at 1:20 PM

      We’re all ‘guilty’ of not giving our kids our full attention and we don’t ‘always’ need to. It’s just about being more aware of how often you’re not and making a better effort.

      One trick I learned at The Parent Practice back when I did their 10 week parenting skills course is this one:

      If your child wants to talk to you about something and you really can’t listen properly at that moment, grab a sticky note (or any nearby paper!) and make a note of it (ie: Olivia wants to talk about what she can take in for show & tell) and assure your child you want to hear about that later when you can give her your full attention. Then make sure later, prompted by the note, you sit down and give her all ears.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Jo! I’d love to hear which Fink cards you choose. There are so many to pick from! 🙂

      • Jo on October 21, 2015 at 9:41 PM

        Great idea thanks I’m doing that. I’ll even let him pick the colour of the sticky notes and they can be used just for that.

        Will keep you posted on the Fink cards

        • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 26, 2015 at 10:21 AM

          Love it Jo! What a cute and clever idea to let him choose. Let me know how you get on with this 🙂

  6. Amy on October 19, 2015 at 4:32 PM

    The most important thing I’ve learned in raising kids is to never ever react with strong emotions (outwardly) to what they tell you. My oldest would come home from a visit to her dad’s and tell me things that happened. I would be so outraged and feel powerless because I had to make her go but couldn’t change anything. Years later she said she stopped telling me because she didn’t want to upset me. It’s served me well to remember that with the rest of the kids (I remarried and have several more). We must validate them and show empathy but we must not react strongly.

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 19, 2015 at 6:22 PM

      Amy, we need to share these learning experiences so others can benefit. You’ve given me such good food for thought and I’m sure others will appreciate you sharing this story too. Thank you! x

  7. Victoria Milford on October 19, 2015 at 5:26 PM

    I was really interested to hear about the FINK cards but they seem to be out of print / stock and I can’t even find them on eBay! Any ideas? My boys are pre school so I’d ideally like the Early Years ones.
    Otherwise I’ll need to devise my own!


  8. Kathryn on October 20, 2015 at 12:36 PM

    Lots of great communication tips here, thanks Kelly and all. I think I’m doing ok with communication with my girls (we laugh about how much we can read about one another without saying a word) but thought I’d also share something that works for us that may work for others too. My eldest daughter struggles with verbalising issues, it’s not that she can’t share at all but saying the words out loud to begin with is an issue (particularly if confessing to a misdemeanour) so we have a book that she writes in, then she tells me I need to read the book, I am then prepared and not likely to ‘over-react’ as I read. Once I’ve read it and begin a conversation with her the rest flows verbally but the book helps get that started.

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 20, 2015 at 8:31 PM

      Wow Kathryn – what a genius idea! I’m definitely going to pimp that one and I’ll bet others reading this will too. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  9. Lisa Warner on October 20, 2015 at 2:49 PM

    Thank you Kelly for the wonderful mention. I really enjoyed reading all the tips and the comments. Family communication is my passion and I love helping people have great conversations. When my children were younger our communication got stuck in a rut, I was guilty of asking the same questions over and over again until the answers turned into grunts. I didn’t realise the power of simply asking a different question.
    Here are a couple of questions to ask rather than ‘How was school today?’
    If you owned a shop what would it sell?
    Would you rather be an adult or child?
    What is your favourite memory?

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 20, 2015 at 8:37 PM

      Love what you’re doing Lisa! Thanks for sharing how this wonderful idea of yours came about.

      And thanks for those alternatives to ‘how was school?’ I just asked my 13 year old if he owned a shop what would it sell and it was interesting to hear that he’d love to sell cool interior design objects! Who knew?? (I’d have guessed he’d say a candy shop!)

      Keep doing what you’re doing Lisa! It’s so important to keep families talking 🙂

  10. Joce on October 21, 2015 at 12:01 AM

    Thanks for this, very timely. I have the issue where my articulate 4 yr old talks constantly – constantly! I have to ask him to stop so one of the other two can speak or ask a question. I often feel I am squashing him but I am unsure how to filter out what is very important speak and what is just noise. Ahhhh first world problems! My eldest child has a speech delay so I swore I would never tell a child to be quiet – how wrong I was!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 21, 2015 at 2:40 PM

      Ahhhh! This whole parenting thing is such a minefield Joce! You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got my dear!! Thanks for sharing your situation. I’m sure there’s someone else out there who completely relates! xx

  11. Julie Addis-Fuller on October 26, 2015 at 11:05 PM

    The very first question I ask my two after school is ‘what was the best thing about your day’ – it gets a much better response than ‘how was school’ in my experience!

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