Can you communicate effectively with your child and not let their or your emotions get in the way? It can be difficult to do this, especially when things are tense. What are you actually trying to say? What are they actually trying to say? Are you hearing each other?

Key points

  • Define the problem and the emotions around it
  • State calmly what the problem is
  • Teach your kids to look beyond emotions

The fried egg of communication

When we are communicating with another human being, there are two aspects to the message being delivered:

  • The actual content (‘the facts’ )
  • Our emotional imprint on this content

Unfortunately, the latter can often get in the way of the former. The same bunch of facts with different emotional delivery can, of course, create completely different messages. We all intuitively know this. It does, however present a challenging dimension to communication. Facts are usually pretty easy to figure out; the emotional meaning around them not necessarily so.

You can think about these two aspects parts of communication like a fried egg. The yolk of the egg represents the message to be delivered— the content. The white of the egg is the emotional mess around it.

When you are communicating with your child you are actually dealing with two fried eggs, theirs and yours. They have to get past your emotional mess to figure out what you are actually saying, and you have to get past theirs to hear what they are actually saying. In difficult or heated exchanges, the two eggs can look more scrambled than fried!


One would expect the white of our children’s egg to be bigger. They’re still maturing and are going to have trouble getting past their emotions when trying to communicate, at least more so than adults will (well, one would hope this is the case).

When they are trying to blurt out a message with a significant emotional content (e.g. their favourite toy  has just broken or they got pushed over by another child) the emotion may be overwhelming and it may not even be possible for them to get to the yolk (Us: ‘What’s up?’  Them: ‘Ah, oh, I ah… oh, Jenny said, and then I said, and, oh, ah, WAAAH!!!!’) In this situation, we need get them to calm down and slow down, and also teach them how to actually tease out the issue at hand (more on this later).


In order to improve our communication with our child, we also have to think about our emotional delivery. Once again, this is more important in fraught situations (such as when disciplining). We need to clear away our negative emotions so that the actual content of our message is more apparent to our child (this is why screaming at our kids is not the way to go). If we want them to actually understand what we are saying and hence learn from us, we need to show them our yolk, not our white.

This may be hard for some of us to do. It can be difficult to change old habits. However, it’s never too early and never too late to change.

State (calmly) what the problem actually is (eg ‘I am sad because you didn’t tidy up your toys like I asked you to.’). Some of us may have been brought up in emotionally repressed households where we didn’t talk about feelings and all that ‘namby pamby’ stuff (and didn’t that do us a lot of good). Get over it. Open up and talk to your child in a way that maximises their understanding.

In essence we define the problem and identify the emotions around it, then flesh these out and put them into context. This prevents the ‘collateral damage’ of the emotional delivery and teaches our child to learn to look beyond emotions.