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Tips for communication

General Advice

There’s an old saying that if you treat someone like a child, they will behave like a child. The challenge for parents is that their offspring entering later adolescence are making that transition into adulthood and until recently (and perhaps still on occasion), act like children, and are therefore spoken to accordingly. See below for some helpful tips that have been garnered from various psychology studies and practices that will help you evolve your communication style.

Broad Communication Pointers

Model Respectful Behaviour

Adolescents are becoming adults and therefore their understanding of respect will change. As children, respect is something given to elder, more knowledgeable people. As adults however, we expect this to be a reciprocal relationship, a two-way street. Even if we don’t agree with someone, we can do so respectfully, without being condescending.

Remember that there is a 'You' and 'I'

While children are young they hear many sentences in which they are the object; “you need to…”, “what would you…”. As they enter early adulthood, they (hopefully) no longer consider only themselves, and to develop a more adult relationship, it is expected that parents will begin more sentences with "I", just as they might if talking with adult family members.

Take Work/Relationship Stress/Problems seriously

It is so easy to say “oh it will be okay” or “you'll be fine” when someone presents a problem. It feels like you’re being supportive but it can be interpreted as being dismissive. They might not need to be told it will be fine, but need someone to listen and say that they understand the difficulty/empathise with them. You can still conclude by saying things will be fine, but only after you have thoroughly listened and empathised, and hopefully the conversation has provided some emotional relief or practical solution.

Practical Communication Pointers

Contact Expectation

Before a student goes away to college, it is good to have an open conversation to establish similar expectations regarding the frequency of contact. This isn’t an instruction that phone calls should happen on x, y, and z, but rather so nobody feels excluded or nagged.

Short, Frequent Contact

Students can have busy lives, much more so than previously, as most will work alongside their study. If a call home is likely to take an hour, you may find it happening less frequently. Instead, brief but enjoyable conversations are more likely to become frequent.

Move with the Technology

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that young people text much more frequently and speak on the phone much less frequently than in the past. Parents/Guardians should ensure that they are comfortable with text message and also find out the student’s preferred messaging app. This is not necessarily the default text-messaging option on the phone. It may be a data-messaging app, such as WhatsApp or Snapchat. To ensure lines of communication are open therefore, it is useful for parents/guardians to ensure they have the necessary apps on their phone.

Don’t forget Dad/Male Guardian

Traditionally, many students move away to college and keep regular contact with their mother/female guardian, but forget about their dad/male guardian. Depending on the male parent-child relationship, which can of course vary greatly, there is a danger of creating a distance that should be avoided.

Advice is still Useful, when Appropriate

Giving the right amount of advice is a difficult balance to strike. The student is growing up and becoming independent. Most parents/guardians are aware that they don’t want to always be telling an 18 year old what they should or shouldn’t do. But there will be occasions when the student craves some kind of direction. We don’t want it to feel like a lecture, so perhaps the best approach is to ask what the student thinks they will or should do first and judge the situation, and whether they might like some friendly advice or even request it.

Parent to Parent Tips

Valerie’s Story

I have two daughters who both went to university, one at the university at home and the other at a university in another country. Whether they are at home or abroad my advice would be much the same. It is hard to let go, however, they can be far more sensible than we give them credit for. Remember you have raised a young person capable of gaining a place at university and that counts for something. They will have new challenges and situations and may not run to you for help in the first instance. Stay in touch with them, on their terms. Their phone is in their hand but that doesn’t mean that they will reply immediately. 

As college life becomes more normal for them, they may decide not to come home at the weekend and stay with friends instead. Don’t put any pressure on them as they are becoming more independent and mature and are beginning to enjoy their college days. Allow them to have the time and space they want but always letting them know you are only a text away. If they are at college away from home, make an arrangement with them before you visit. This lets them know you respect their space. Don’t give them too much advice, they won’t take it on board and you will only become frustrated. If they want your advice they will ask you. Remember, congratulations to you for a job well done.

Deirdre’s Story

I have two children who have gone through the Leaving Certificate process and one more to go. It was a very stressful time for both them and me. As a parent, the trick is keep them motivated, explain that they have the work done and the most important thing of all is that they have confidence in themselves. Listening is a huge factor so always be prepared to listen and always be contactable. Each day during the Leaving Cert year and especially during the exam period brings its own set of difficulties. Be prepared for all eventualities.

As a parent it was important to stay calm and keep things in perspective, and try and alleviate stress as much as possible. For me as a parent it was important to be familiar with the LC timetable and listen and support them each day and give them plenty of praise and encouragement. When the exams end, take time out with them and always let them know that you are very proud of them whatever the outcome.

As the date for the results drew near, this was nearly more stressful than doing the actual exams. It is important to acknowledge their achievement and tell them how proud you are of them. Prepare them for the results no matter what the outcome. Always congratulate them on their achievement and praise them for sticking with their studies. Remember to always look for a solution, not a problem. Reassuring your son or daughter is very important and let them know that there are always options.

As a parent it is important to remember when the Leaving Cert. results fade, it is replaced by the reality of going to college. Be familiar with the services available to your child. Loneliness and making new friends is a huge factor and, at this point, you need to be in the background.  Don’t smother them. I have learned that being more of a friend rather that a parent, our communication was way better. Be supportive and encouraging at all times. Above all as a parent, stay calm!

  • General Advice
  • Parent to Parent Tips