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Communicating with Kids Series – How Do I Develop a Relationship with my Child Who Has Behavioral Issues or Who Has Trouble

March 6th, 2019     By Boys Town Contributor

Child Development, Communicating with Children, Communicating with Kids, Connecting with Kids, Connecting with Teens, Parent-Child Relationships

Communicating with Kids is a seven-part series on how parents can better communicate with children of all ages. Each month we pose a specific question about communication to a variety of our Boys Town experts; from the Boys Town Center for Behavioral HealthSM to the Boys Town Common Sense Parenting® program and many who serve the Boys Town National Hotline®.

Part 6

Do you have any suggestions for developing and building relationships with kids who already have behavioral issues, or issues keeping them from communicating?

K-3rd Grade

Children with severe behavioral problems may also find it extremely difficult to share their feelings with others. It may be helpful to take a child who struggles with getting to know others on a sort of “ride along” or “listening tour” with you. By riding along, they will not feel the pressure of having to interact. Instead, you can model communication skills during everyday activities with family and others. By having them go along to listen and watch how you talk and get along with others, they can observe how you observe cues, wait to speak without interrupting and share appropriate topics.

Bridget Barnes, Director, Boys Town's Common Sense Parenting

4th-8th Grade

Fundamentally, all humans respond to, and typically don’t get enough of in their day-to-day lives, others authentically acknowledging, showing appreciation for and approving of them as a person and who they are. When behavior is going south and your relationship with a child is strained, you can improve things by focusing on praising them for their behavior and performance. A good praise ratio to use is 5:1, meaning for every corrective interaction you have with your child work to find five things to praise them for through appreciating, accepting and acknowledging the things they do well and what they bring to the table. When you do this in an authentic way, children come to see you as an ally.

Julie Almquist, Manager, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

9th-12th Grade (Teens)

  1. Show interest in the whole person and all their interests and activities.
  2. Develop rapport through social conversation – e.g., ask open-ended questions, show interest in small bits of personal information and reward efforts immediately.
  3. Adjust expectations with the goal of improvement versus mastery.
  4. Praise approximations.
  5. Provide an ongoing overview of expectations and feedback on progress.
  6. Maintain high ratios of positive-to-negative interactions.
  7. Whenever possible, draw others family members and friends into communication with the child.
  8. Utilize various means to communicate – e.g., written notes, high fives, smiles and nods in addition to verbal exchanges.
  9. Encourage teens to talk with you anytime for any reason.

Linda McGuire, Boys Town National Hotline Supervisor



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