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Create opportunities to listen to and talk with your child, with a focus on learning about their interests, opinions, and concerns.

Communication is at the core of parenting and supporting growing children. When you give children opportunities to discuss what is going on in their life, their development is greatly enhanced. Do the children you care about have regular opportunities to discuss with you what they are experiencing, thinking, and feeling? When they have a crisis, will they confide in you?

You can help reduce the risk of child sexual abuse just by fostering a strong, consistent pattern of communication with the children and youth you care about. You reinforce a sense of safety and belonging as you express genuine interest in listening to your child’s opinions, ideas, and concerns. You also signal to your child that what they say matters and that you hold confidence in the things they tell you, which can be a critical element should your child experience something that they can’t handle by themselves.

You can learn so much about your child just by talking with them. Conversations can be a great way to build trust, connection, and to identify things to be watchful of.

As you Talk to your child, consider these recommendations:

Respond, not React
Pause to allow your response to be thoughtful and intentional, not an emotional reaction.
Get to know your kids
Get to know your kids by asking, then doing a lot of curious listening.
Explain the reasons behind decisions
Provide age-appropriate explanations of the why’s behind the rules, standards, and decisions that you ask your children to abide by.
Apologize when you make a mistake
Apologize after situations where you weren’t the version of yourself you strive to be.

Respond, Not React

One challenge all parents face is maintaining control of their own feelings while supporting children who grapple with intense emotions. In every relationship, there are topics or situations that naturally bring out heightened emotions or even tension. You may even inadvertently dampen your child’s willingness to talk about things because your own emotions are running high, or because of snap decisions that have been made in the past. You’re a parent who is learning along the way, so it’s understandable that some conversations are going to push every button you’ve got. These suggestions may help to give you some space to have the most productive conversation possible.

Is your child trying to tell you something important? Are your emotions running high?


Take a deep breath.

This will give you a moment to pause, process what’s happening, and decide how you need to handle what your child is sharing with you.


Pay attention to what you are feeling.

Respond with kindness and intention. It is important that you do not shut your child down when they are trying to communicate.



It’s difficult to listen, especially if you’d rather not hear the things your child is saying or asking. Try not to interrupt them and let them talk as much as they want to before you respond.


Validate your child’s feelings. 

Verbally reflect what feelings they think they are communicating by both their verbal and non-verbal cues. Let them know how much you appreciate their trust in you. Thank them for being open. Assure them that you are there to help. 


Ask questions.

Even if you think you might already know the answers, giving your child space to share more can be very helpful. As you ask for more information, it shows them that you aren’t looking to react prematurely.


Set or reinforce expectations.

If you are trying to redirect an unhelpful or disruptive behavior, set up the parameters or reinforce your guidelines. Clearly communicate any changes in expectations.

Explain the Reasons Behind Decisions

Children and teens benefit when parents take the time to explain the reasons for their decisions and expectations. This can be a simple explanation of values that are connected to the situation at hand. When parents foster mutual understanding, even in small ways, they promote open communication and lay the groundwork for a collaborative approach.

While there are certain situations where immediate explanations are not possible (such as when you are preventing your child from unsafely darting into a busy road), you can always take time afterwards to reflect with them why you acted or made the decision you did.

When you explain decisions to your child, you could consider using these strategies:

Provide some context

Help your child understand the circumstances or context that led to the decision. For example, you may have safety concerns about a particular activity. An event may conflict with your family values or pose logistical constraints. Whatever the reason, help them see the bigger picture and understand why certain decisions are made.

Be clear and concise

Do your best to present your reasons in a clear and straightforward manner. Don’t carry on into lengthy explanations. Ensure that your child can grasp the main points and understand the rationale behind your decision.

Use age-appropriate language

Tailor your explanation to your child’s developmental level. Use language and concepts they can understand. Simplify complex ideas and break them down into explanations based on your child’s age and cognitive ability. When in doubt, invite them to explain back to you (in their own words) the concepts you’ve shared.

What this sounds like:

Pilar is teaching her children with different ages about the boundaries surrounding anatomy. She can use more abstract concepts with her older teen, but chooses to be more concrete with her younger children.

For her preschool age daughter:
“Girls and boys have different private parts on their bodies. Girls have a vulva, and boys have a penis. We don’t ask others if we can look at or touch those parts of their bodies.”
For her elementary school age son:
“Everyone has body parts related to their reproductive system. Girls have a vulva, which is the part of their body on the outside, and boys have a penis. Part of respecting others is to not try and touch those places on their body.”
For her teens:
“Consent means that both people agree and feel comfortable with what is happening. It’s important to understand that no one should ever touch you without your consent, and you should never touch someone else without their consent. This is especially important when it comes to sexual situations. What are the questions that come to mind as you think about this?”

Use examples or visuals, when helpful

Utilizing concrete examples or visual aids can help illustrate your reasoning or break down a sequence into manageable pieces. Sometimes they can help make your explanation more relatable and understandable for your child.

What this looks like:

“After school internet use is allowed when:”
Homework is done.
Chores are done.
Someone else is in the room with you.
Screen is visible to others.

Encourage questions and discussion

Invite your child to ask questions and engage in a discussion about the decision. Create an open and safe space where they feel comfortable expressing their concerns or questions. Try your best to acknowledge their thoughtful approach when they do so.

Connect decisions to values and long-term goals

This is critical to do when children don’t easily see the future impact of a decision. Help your child understand how a decision aligns with your family values or the long-term goals they have for themselves. Take time to explain certain actions that promote their well-being, safety or personal growth. Be sure to emphasize the positive intentions behind your reasoning.

What this sounds like:

Darrell is encouraging his teen son to be selective of the sexual activity he pursues.

“During your teenage years, you are going to have opportunities to engage in sexual situations. Sex has a big impact on our mental and emotional well-being and there are major emotional consequences that can arise from engaging in sexual activity before you are ready. My view is that sex is an intimate and consensual act. It’s most appropriate between people who already have a strong ongoing emotional connection. I want you to protect your emotional well-being. I recommend you choose to participate in sexual activity with only people you have discussed the long-term impacts of intimacy with. That can help protect you from situations where consent could be misinterpreted and/or boundaries could be violated.”

Offer alternatives or compromises when appropriate

When possible, involve your child in the decision-making process. When you propose alternatives or compromises, it gives children an opportunity to practice using their own judgement and choice. This empowers children and helps them feel valued, even if the final decision may not entirely align with what they initially had hoped for.

Get to Know Your Kids

One of the best parts of increasing communication with your child is the connection that is built. Being a parent doesn’t always mean that you get to be their buddy; there are times you need to take on a role of responsibility. But there are also loads of potential for you to strengthen and nurture your child by understanding their personality, goals, and motivations.

Introduce Your Child

Imagine you had the opportunity to introduce your child to a new friend, colleague, or teacher. Write down some of their attributes, character traits, and likes/dislikes. Then, share what you wrote with your child and let them “check your work.” Keep in mind that as children mature, the details you share will also change.
  • My child enjoys:
  • Three characteristics they often show are:
  • They are motivated by:
  • One of the opinions that they value most is:
  • One of the things they worry about is:
  • What they would like to do in the future includes:
Bonus idea: Purposely include a few “mistakes” that you know are incorrect. Be open to let your child change them and add a few details to expand on what you wrote.
Examples of Different Questions You Can Use:
  • If you got to have the same food every single day for a year, which would you choose?
  • What are you most excited about when you turn ____ this next year?
  • Who is your best friend that is around your age? Why did you choose to be their friend?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself for a week, what would it be?
  • What does it mean to be a good person?
  • What is the hardest thing you had to do so far this week?
  • If you could snap your fingers and improve the world, what would you fix first?
  • Who would you miss the most if they had to take a year-long trip away from you?
  • What is the nicest thing you have done for someone else this week?
  • What is your favorite type of weather? Why?

Asking children about their opinions on specific topics can offer some valuable insight into what they think and feel. This helps children have a place to express themselves and explain how they view the world. Remember, you don’t always have to agree with or challenge what they share; just listen. If they share an opinion that is concerning to you, keep listening. Revisit the topic on another day in a calm way.

When you were growing up, you may have heard this question from your parent: “How was school today?” Sometimes we default to a simple question like that to check in with our kids and hope they will share more. But the truth is, sometimes we can get more creative with our questions.

Having conversations like these helps prepare parents and their children to discuss more serious matters, even sexual abuse.

Apologize to Your Child When You Make a Mistake

Every parent makes mistakes. There are no flawless parenting techniques, and even if there were, adapting them to every child would still require some amount of “trial and error.” Apologies can play a crucial role in strengthening the relationship between you and your child. Children are likely to respond positively when you acknowledge a shortcoming in a sincere and genuine way. As they observe you recognizing your mistake/error in a calm manner, they are encouraged to accept your apology and mimic that behavior in the future when they make mistakes of their own.

Some good principles to model as you apologize include:

Take responsibility

Healthy adults show accountability for their actions and accept the impact of their choices. By owning up to their mistakes, parents demonstrate accountability and model important values such as honesty, integrity, and self-compassion.

What this sounds like:

"I'm sorry for losing my temper earlier. I shouldn't have raised my voice. I want you to know that I'm working on managing my anger better. Can you forgive me?"

Empathize and validate their feelings

Wise parents continually show empathy and validation of their child’s feelings, but this is especially important when communicating an apology. When children sense you understand how they are feeling, it will help to repair trust and restore the emotional connection you have. Depending on the situation, it may take a little bit of time for you to cool down and sincerely empathize. Don’t be afraid to ask for some time to regroup, but it may be helpful if your child has an idea of when you’ll be able to come back to the conversation.

What this sounds like:

“I’m sorry for breaking my promise to attend your game. I realize now that it hurt your trust in me and you didn’t feel supported on your big day. Moving forward, I will make a conscious effort to be more reliable and keep my word.”

Communicate openly

Allow your child to express their thoughts and feelings whatever the circumstance or situation. Be curious about their ideas and create a safe and non-judgmental space for the child to share their perspective and be heard.

What this sounds like:

“I apologize for jumping to a conclusion without hearing your perspective. It was unfair of me, and I understand now that I should have asked for your input before assuming I had all the information. I promise to make a greater effort to listen before I respond.”

Problem-solve and make amends

Apologies should be accompanied by a commitment to repair any harm that was done and make amends. This can involve discussing potential solutions, implementing changes, and taking steps to resolve the hurt caused from your actions.

What this sounds like:

“It was wrong of me to interrupt you when you were trying to explain your side. I should have given you the chance to express yourself. Will you give me an opportunity to try again? What would you like to share with me?”

Consistently follow through

It sounds simplistic, but being consistent in your behavior and parenting has an impact on a child’s expectations and security. As you follow through on your commitments you can rebuild trust where it was lost. Children respond positively when they observe that their parents make efforts to rectify their mistakes and consistently demonstrate improved behavior over time.

What this sounds like:

“I have been trying to be more empathetic and understanding but I didn’t do a very good job earlier as you were telling me about your problem. Your emotions matter, and I want to be there to support you, whatever you are feeling. Will you give me another chance?”
Being a Positive Role Model
Parents play a crucial role in modeling behavior for their children. By apologizing when they make mistakes, parents teach their children valuable lessons about accountability, empathy, and the importance of acknowledging and learning from errors.
Remember, a sincere apology should involve taking accountability for your actions, expressing your regrets in specific ways, and showing a commitment to change or make amends. When you follow up your apologies with actions that demonstrate your sincere intentions, it works to rebuild trust and maintain a healthy dialogue with your children.
As fundamental as it may seem, talking with your child is a great way to build trust, increase connection, set an example, and get to know them better. This increases the likelihood that if they need support, they’ll recognize that they can turn to you. Additionally, these communications will help you identify areas where your child may need some additional support and provide them with a venue to express themselves openly.

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