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How to Talk to Your Parents

Shanna Butler

Listening to and loving our parents can make a big change for the better in our families.

When I was younger, I thought my parents spoke a different language than I did. Now that I’m older, I realize they probably thought the same thing about me. Somehow, to them, “I want to go to a party on Friday” would translate to “I’m heading off into a dangerous world where people will tempt me to do bad things.” And a “No!” from them would say to me, “We don’t really care about your social life. Why don’t you just stay home and read a book?”

Although “parentese” might be a difficult language to understand at times, to feel unity and love in our families we need to listen to and love our parents. And we need to communicate clearly. Doctrine and Covenants 50:21–22 tells us how we can better understand each other:

“Why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

“Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.”

In other words, we need the Spirit to be able to communicate effectively and lovingly and to build each other up. Verse 23 goes on to say, “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.”

Learn to Be a Good Communicator

Poor communication can ruin good relationships in a hurry. Let’s say Susan, a Laurel, is just coming home past her curfew. Her dad is waiting up for her.

Dad: Where have you been, Susan?

Susan: Don’t you trust me?

Dad: Your mom and I were worried.

Susan: I’m old enough to go out without you checking up on me all the time.

Dad: I don’t know if you should go to any more parties for a while if you can’t get home on time.

Susan: But Dad, I’m only a little late. You’re so unfair!

Susan then storms up to her room and slams the door. Obviously, not much family unity is being built in this situation.

Besides coming home on time, here’s a better way Susan could have dealt with this situation:

Dad: Where have you been, Susan?

Susan: Sorry I’m late, Dad. I lost track of time, and traffic was bad.

Dad: Your mom and I were worried.

Susan: Thanks for worrying about me, but I’m fine. I’ll try not to be late next time, and I’ll call if I am so you won’t be worried.

Dad: Thanks, but I don’t know if you should go to any more parties for a while.

Susan: Can we talk about this, Dad? I am getting older, and most of my friends have later curfews than I do. Can we discuss moving my curfew to a later time?

Susan and her dad stay up for a while working things out.

Notice the first thing Susan did was apologize. A smart move. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” If her dad had been upset at her, Susan’s soft answers would probably make him less upset.

She also listened to what her dad was really saying—with his words and his actions. If he really didn’t care about her, he probably wouldn’t have waited up. She realized her dad wanted her to come home on time because he loves her and not because he wants to ruin her life.

It Takes Two and Time

Communication takes at least two people. What if Susan’s dad had been unreasonable or unwilling to listen? It would be hard to improve the communication in your family all by yourself, but you can do a lot of good just by changing your attitude. If you always think you are right and everyone else is wrong, you’ll spend much of your life arguing with others. But if you are willing to listen to others, to be understanding of their views, and to speak openly and honestly, your communication will improve, and you will have the Spirit with you more often.

Changing communication patterns that have been built up over years can take time, but it is possible, especially when you have the Holy Spirit with you. You can also ask the Lord to soften the hearts of others who are not as willing to communicate as you are and to help you know what to say.

More Than Words

Communication is more than words. Our body language and actions also communicate as much as, or more, than our words. Have you ever told your mother you would do something, and then you didn’t do it? Your words said one thing; your actions said another. Which do you think your mother believed?

Would you keep reading a book while your father is trying to talk to you, or would you put your book down and look at him? Which action do you think shows him you care about what he is saying?

Improving our communication involves watching our actions as well as our words. King Benjamin said, “Watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds” (Mosiah 4:30).

Tips from Someone Who Knows

Here are some ideas from Ross Clement, a program specialist and counselor for LDS Family Services. He has seen many families with communication problems and has learned much about good communication.

  • Follow the Savior’s example of good communication.
    The Savior forgave, comforted, uplifted, and counseled others to do good. You can do the same.
  • Identify and correct what you are doing wrong if there is a communication breakdown.
    Think about your behavior, and be willing to admit when you make a mistake. If you realize you are behaving inappropriately, stop that behavior.
  • Look for the good in others.
    If you are always concentrating on the negative in your parents’ actions and decisions, it is hard to see the positive. It is easy to distort others’ words in a negative way. Take the time to communicate with your parents to find out what they are really trying to say.
  • Talk respectfully.
    Relationships can be damaged by hateful or hurtful words spoken in anger. Their memory can last a lifetime, long after the situation that prompted them is forgotten. The Apostle James stated: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). Remember to talk respectfully to your parents.
  • Be interested and willing to listen.
    Try listening to your parents, even if you think they’re not listening to you. Listen respectfully and try to understand what they are saying.
  • Let your parents know how you feel.
    As you do this, try not to be upset or angry. When you feel upset by something they have done, you could let them know how you feel instead of blaming them.

    While most teens can improve the quality of communication with their parents, a few cannot. Some live in homes with parents who are physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive. Don’t place yourself at risk by trying to talk to them if they might respond inappropriately. Brother Clement suggests that you talk to your bishop, school counselor, or another trusted adult about how to deal with the situation.

Happy Together

My parents and I are much better at communicating now. I’ve learned to see them as real people who are not perfect but who love me very much and want the best for me. The Lord said, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long” (Ex. 20:12).

Following my parents’ guidelines and my Heavenly Father’s commandments has helped me to be a happy adult, married in the temple, and ready to teach those same guidelines and commandments to my future children so they can be happy too. I only hope we will be able to speak the same language.

Be a Better Communicator

  • Follow the Savior’s example of good communication.
  • Identify and correct what you are doing wrong if there is a communication breakdown.
  • Look for the good in others.
  • Talk to others respectfully.
  • Be interested and willing to listen.
  • Respectfully let your parents know how you feel.

The Savior’s Example

Our Savior Jesus Christ has shown us the way to communicate. Here are a few examples from His life and teachings that can help us be better communicators. As you search the scriptures you will find many more.

He teaches us to return good for evil. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).

He teaches us to be loving. He commanded His disciples to “love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

He is forgiving. On the cross, the Lord pleaded in behalf of His persecutors: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

He is an example of service. The scriptures say Jesus “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed” (Acts 10:38).

He is grateful. The Savior always gave thanks to Heavenly Father: “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21).

He is slow to condemn. He encouraged the woman taken in adultery to repent: “Where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

“. . . Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10–11).

He listens. The Israelites said, “When we cried unto the Lord, he heard our voice” (Num. 20:16). And Alma said, “I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer” (Alma 29:10).

For more information about communication in families, visit ldsfamilyservices.org.

Tell us what you think of this article. E-mail us at newera@ldschurch.org.

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