Raising a child who learns and thinks differently is complex. Situations like discussing challenges with the child’s doctor can be stressful. Same with IEP meetings. And parents don’t always agree about steps to take.
For example, you might disagree on whether your child with dyslexia should be pulled out of class for special reading instruction. Or whether your child’s challenges are “serious” enough for an evaluation.
But it’s important for parents to talk through these situations together. Here are tips to help ease you through talks like these.
1. Give up the need to be right.
Even before you ask to sit down for a talk, remind yourself that it’s all about finding a solution to a problem. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. What matters is that the two of you are working together to address your child’s needs as best you can. Keep in mind that solid, creative solutions can come from embracing different points of view.
2. Choose the right time to talk.
Nobody likes feeling cornered right when they walk in the door from work or when they’re in a rush. Especially when it’s about something as important as your child’s well-being.
Instead, chat when you’re both at your best. Ideally, try to talk after you’ve both had a chance to unwind and can focus on your conversation. Even if you’ve set up a time in advance for your discussion, it’s a good idea to ask something like, “Is this still a good time to talk about helping Molly focus in class?” If necessary, find a better time. Your conversation will benefit.
3. Start the conversation positively.
Show how much you appreciate your partner’s willingness to talk and to work with you to find a solution. You could say something like, “Thanks for talking with me about looking into an evaluation. It’s really been weighing on my mind. But I always feel better when we can think things through together.”
4. Stay focused on the problem at hand.
This isn’t the time to bring up tricky relationship history or other unrelated issues. But even if you stick to the topic, your partner might not. To keep things on track, you can say something like, “Let’s talk about one thing at a time.” Or “I’d be happy to talk about Heather’s household responsibilities tomorrow. But let’s work on this problem today.”
5. Just listen.
Listening is key to making difficult conversations work. And that means truly hearing what your partner is saying when you’re having a discussion. Try to stop yourself from interrupting. Don’t start thinking about your next comment while your partner is mid-sentence. Stay present and try to absorb their comments before you start talking. And try to keep from making hasty judgments.
6. Reflect what you hear — even if you don’t agree.
One way your partner will know you’re really listening is to reflect back what you’ve heard. You can start with something like, “Let me see if I fully understand what you’re saying….” Experts call this skill “reflective listening.” It helps keep stressful situations from escalating and gets things back on track when participants are getting upset.
7. Avoid pointing fingers.
Nothing kills a productive conversation faster than accusations. Don’t accuse your partner of causing the problem or of avoiding the topic. Try not to assign blame. Avoid statements like, “You always do this!” Why? Your partner is likely to feel defensive and may even counterattack. And that will probably shut down your conversation and halt whatever progress you two were making.
8. Try to find something you agree with.
Maybe you strongly believe the opposite of what your partner is saying. But is there any crossover in your feelings? Even a little consensus can help you both feel like you’re beginning to contribute to a solution. “I know you worry about how much time Lily spends on her phone,” you might say. “I agree we should set a limit. Her ADHD makes time management especially difficult for her. I just don’t think we should take away her phone the whole time she’s at home. It’s important for her social life.”
9. Take a time-out if you need it.
No matter how hard you try, your discussion about your child may reach a point where it’s too heated to continue. Consider setting up a time-out signal before you start. Or say something like, “Let’s stop for now,” and set a time to speak again within 24 hours. When you’re both calm, try approaching the conversation again. If it keeps happening, you might want to see a professional like a faith leader or a therapist to help you work through your differences.
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About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.