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Helping Hands

Communication Barriers and How To Overcome Them

Talking to your preteen or teenager sometimes can be a bit difficult. Maybe you start to chat with your child and you get a "look" that immediately stops conversation. Or, maybe your child wants to talk to you, but you're focusing on paying the bills and are not giving him your full attention.

Studies show, however, that talking to your children does have an impact, so it's important to make the effort to really communicate.1 Here are some common communication barriers and how to overcome them. Remember, not all of these will work in all situations, and sometimes you'll need to keep trying. Put in the effort—the reward will be a better relationship and improved communication with your child.


How To Overcome It


Let your child talk without interrupting her—you will have your turn to speak. This lets your child know that you are interested in what she is saying.

Not paying full attention to your child

Turn off the TV or radio. Make eye contact with your child—sit next to him if you need to.

Blaming or preaching

Instead of saying things that make your child feel bad ("You're so stupid for doing that," or "I said so, that's why"), try using constructive "I" messages like "So, what I hear you saying is." Offer advice and suggestions: "Let's consider what your options are and figure out the best solution."

Not creating a comfortable environment in which your child can talk

Select a good time to talk to your child—right after school or basketball practice might not be the best time to start a dialog. Let your child have a snack or take a few minutes to rest, and then start the conversation.


Let your child know that you respect her feelings and that what she has to say and how she feels are important.

Even if you think a problem is minor, for example, if your child is upset because his friend wouldn't sit next to him, it's a big deal to him. It's hard to open up sometimes and if you make your child feel uncomfortable, chances are he will simply avoid having honest conversations with you.

Remember to praise your child when she demonstrates good listening skills. It's just as important to develop these skills in your child as it is in you!

Put It Into Practice

One communication barrier is not seeing a child's problem the way he sees it. Sometimes adults dismiss children's problems as unimportant. Click on the first selection below to see a short video that shows an ineffective way to respond when a child shares a problem. After you view it, think about how the father should have responded. Better yet, think about how you would respond given the same situation. Now, select the second vignette to see a more sensitive approach. Do you think the girl is likely to go to her dad the next time she has a problem?

1. Ineffective Response Video

2. Effective Response


1 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 1997. Youth drinking: Risk factors and consequences. Alcohol Alert No. 37.

Additional Resources

Information in this article was compiled from several sources:
  • American Academy of Pediatrics: Communication Do's and Don'ts
  • The National Parenting Center: Communication Barriers
  • National PTA: Opening Doors - A Checklist for Better Communication

This document is in the Public Domain and provided by, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Copyright © 2008, CompDrug Incorporated