Woman talking to elderly parent

6 ways to get better at talking to your parents (and improve your relationship)

It’s been said that your family knows how to push your buttons because they’re the ones who put them there.

For most people, our closest relationships are with our family: our parents, spouses or partners, and kids (remember, not everyone has a close relationship with their parents or direct relatives).

Even in cases where we do have a close relationship, quite often there can be ongoing and / or underlying tension.


Parents, children and differences of opinion

Despite the unique bond that exists between a parent and a child, there may still be a ‘gap’ or a misunderstanding, or even outright disagreements. So why do so many of us not see eye-to-eye with our parents?

Is it that we are so close that we instinctively know where ‘not to go’ when it comes to certain topics of conversation? For example, not discussing child raising or career?

Could it be the opposite? That is, could the fact that we are so close actually be why conversations can get heated? For example, when lack of restraint results in unwanted comments being made about raising children or careers?

Or could those differences be explained in terms of age differences, often called the ‘generation gap’?


6 tips to overcome communication differences with our parents

Poor communication – or rather, miscommunication — is the cause of much tension, distress and agreement between people. Misunderstandings can occur in any social interaction, including among family members.

It stands to reason that, no matter what the cause of the tension and misunderstanding between parents and offspring, it could usually be improved somewhat if we better our communication skills.

So how can we get better at it? How can we be more effective at communicating with our parents?


1) Don’t rush it

If you plan to see your parents (or if you feel you need to see them because you haven’t heard from or seen them in a while), don’t do it when you’re busy with something else.

They’re your parents — and they can almost certainly tell when you’re rushed. They can probably detect if you’re not listening or if you’re not “quite there” because of some distraction.

When you visit, try not to obsessively check your phone. Unless it’s urgent, whatever notification happens on your phone will still be there later.


2) Remain an adult

Even in our adult lives, most of us still get moments around our parents when we feel like a child.

This might occur when we feel angry or frustrated. As easy as it might be to revert back, you don’t want to become a frustrated child who doesn’t like being told what to do.

If you want to be treated as an adult, then you need to act like an adult


3) Don’t just talk about kids or work

If you’re comfortable doing it, open up about what’s going on in your life. This can give your parents a better understanding of the decisions you are making. Don’t just talk about family, childhood or work.

Some topics are ‘safe’. Sport teams, pets, food, hobbies and gardening may seem trivial but they keep the conversation moving along.

Other topics may be challenging because they could move into sensitive territory. Health, social life, plans for the future and finances are important, but in some situations these topics could cause tension.

If it is a difficult or sensitive topic, think about what you want out of the discussion before you enter into it. By bringing up or responding to a particular topic, are you likely to get your way or change their mind? If not, consider if it’s worth getting distressed or annoyed about something you very likely cannot change or control.


4) Doing what you love together

Do an activity that you know you enjoy doing. Did you cook, go fishing or kick a footy together back in the day? Is there a favourite movie that you both love — and if so, why not grab some popcorn and make an occasion out of it? Or what about lunch or dinner together? And if young children are involved, there are many activities that can fit around them.


5) Don’t get caught up with constantly checking up on their situation

When your parents get older, you may start to worry about how they’ll manage on their own. It can be tempting during a visit to want to check by inspecting the fridge for expired food or checking how clean the house is.

Try to see things from their point of view and understand that they might feel that they are being criticised. Rather than focusing on the negative, try to enjoy the time you have together.

Of course, there will also be situations where you do intervene in someone’s life. For example, if a parent is getting older. These discussions can be confronting, so one way to start is to begin with open-ended questions. For example, asking “How are you managing your medication?” or “How do you feel about driving?” will probably get you a far better response than “You need to take better care of your medication” or “You shouldn’t be driving”.


6) Set boundaries

If you feel like your parents don’t respect your choices or are passing judgment on your decisions then it may be time to set boundaries. Are unwelcome things being said about your career change or finances? Do they make sharp observations about how you’re bringing up your kids?

Be straight and make it clear which topics you won’t be discussing. Yes, you can accept your parents’ choices and beliefs, but this will give you space to build your confidence to make decisions.


Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.