The 12 Communication Roadblocks

A catalogue of effects of the typical ways parents respond to children


  • These messages tell a child that his feelings or needs are not important: He must comply with what his parent feels or needs. ("I don't care what you want to do; come into the house this minute.")
  • They communicate unacceptance of the child as he is at the moment ("Stop fidgeting around.")
  • They produce fear of the parent's power. The child hears a threat by getting hurt of someone bigger and stronger than he ("Go to your rom – and if you don't I'll see to it that you get there.")
  • They make the child feel resentful or angry, frequently causing him to express hostile feelings, throw a tantrum, fight back, resist, test the parents will.
  • They can communicate to the child that the parent does not trust the child's own judgment or competence ("Don't touch that dish." "Stay away from your baby brother.")

Example of Roadblock #1: Child says to parent, "I want another drink of water." Parent says, "You've had enough-- get to bed right this minute!"


  • These messages can make a child feel fearful and submissive. ("If you do that you'll be sorry.")
  • They can evoke resentment and hostility in the same way that ordering, directing and commanding do. ("If you don't get to bed right away, you're going to get spanked.")
  • They can communicate that the parent has no respect for the child's needs or wishes ("If you don't stop playing that drum I'm going to get really upset")
  • Children sometimes respond to warnings or threats by saying "I don't care what happens, I still feel this way." These messages also invite the child to test the firmness of the parent's threat. Children sometimes are tempted to do something that they have been warned against just to see for themselves if the consequences promised by the parent actually happen.

Example of Roadblock #2: Teenager says to dad, "I really don't want to do a speech in front of the class." Dad says, "If you don't, you'll probably fail the class."


  • Such messages bring to bear on the child the power of external authority, duty or obligation. Children may respond to such "should's", "ought's", and "musts" by resisting and defending their posture even more strongly.
  • They may make a child feel the parent does not trust his judgment-that he had better accept what "others" deem is right. ("You ought to the right thing.")
  • They make cause feelings of guilt in a child-that he is "bad." ("You shouldn't think that way.")
  • They may make a child feel the parent does not trust his ability to evaluate the validity of others' blueprints or values. ("You should always respect your teachers.")

Example of Roadblock #3: Daughter says to you, "Melissa called me a 'meanie' and she won't play with me." You say, "You should tell her you're sorry."


  • Such messages are often felt by the child as evidence that the parent does not have confidence in the child's judgment or ability to find his own solution.
  • They may influence a child to become dependent on the parent and to stop thinking for himself. ("What should I do daddy?")
  • Sometimes children strongly resent parents' ideas or advice. ("Let me figure this out myself." "I don't want to be told what to do.")
  • Advice sometimes communicates your attitudes of superiority to the child. ("Your mother and I know what's best.")
  • Children can also acquire a feeling of inferiority. ("Why didn't I think of that?" "You always know better what to do.")
  • Advice can make a child feel his parent has not understood him at all. ("You wouldn't suggest that if you really knew how I felt.")
  • Advice sometimes results in the child's devoting all his time reacting to the parents' ideas to the exclusion of developing his own ideas.

Example of Roadblock #4: Teenager says to friend,"School sucks -- I want to quit." Friend says, "Why don't you make an appointment with the school counselor?"


  • The act of trying to teach another often makes the "student" feel you are making him look inferior, subordinate and inadequate. ("You always think you know everything.")
  • Logic and facts often make a child defensive and resentful. ("You think I don't know that?")
  • Children, like adults, seldom like to be shown they are wrong. Consequently they defend their position to the bitter end. ("You're wrong, I'm right." "You can't convince me. ")
  • Children generally hate parental lectures. ("They go on and on and I have to just sit there and listen.")
  • Children often resort to desperate methods of discounting parental facts. ("Well, you are just too old to know what's going on. " "You're ideas are totally out of date and old fashioned." "You're a geek.")
  • Often children already know very well the facts parents insist on teaching them and resent the implication that they are uniformed. ("I know all of that-you don't need to tell me.")
  • Sometimes children choose to ignore facts. ("I don't care." "So what." "It won't happen to me.")

Example of Roadblock #5: Child says to dad, "Daddy, my tummy hurts -- I don't want to go to school today." Dad says, "Well, maybe if you hadn't eaten so many cookies last night, you wouldn't feel sick."


  • These messages, probably more than any of the others, make children feel inadequate, inferior, stupid, unworthy, bad. A child's self concept gets shaped by parental judgment and evaluation. As the parent judges the child, so will the child judge himself. ("I heard so often that I was bad I began to feel I must be bad.")
  • Negative criticism evokes counter criticism. ("I've seen you do the same thing. " "You're not so hot yourself.")
  • Evaluation strongly influences children to keep their feelings to themselves or to hide things from their parents. ("If I told them, I would just be criticized.")
  • Children like adults hate to be judged negatively. They respond with defensiveness simply to protect their own self image. Often they become angry and feel hatred toward the evaluating parent even if the judgment is correct.
  • Frequent evaluation and criticism make some children feel that they are no good and that the parents do not love them.

Example of Roadblock #6: Child says to mom, "Why do you always make me do more chores than Casey? It's not fair." Mom says, "You're just lazy -- that's your problem."


  • Contrary to the common belief that praise is always beneficial to children, it often has very negative effects. A positive evaluation does not fit the child's self image may evoke hostility: "I am not pretty, I am ugly." "I hate my hair." "I did not play well, I was lousy."
  • Children infer that if a parent judges positively they can also judge negatively some other time. Also, the absence of praise in a family where praise is used frequently can be interpreted by the child as criticism. ("You didn't say anything nice about my hair so you must not like it.")
  • Praise is often felt by the child as manipulative-a subtle way of influencing the child to do what the parent wants. ("You're just saying that so I will study harder.")
  • Children sometimes infer that their parents don't understand them when they praise. ("You wouldn't say that if you knew how I really felt about my self.")
  • Children are often embarrassed and uncomfortable when praise is given especially in front of their friends. ("Oh daddy, that's not true!")
  • Children who are praised a lot may grow to depend upon it and even demand it. ("you didn't say anything about my cleaning up my room." "How do I look mom?" "Wasn't I a good little boy?" "Isn't that a good drawing?")

Example of Roadblock #7: Teenager says to mom, "I just can't seem to get along with Linda any more. We never agree on anything." Mom says, "You're such good friends -- I'm sure you'll be able to work it out. You can get along with anybody."


  • Such messages can have a devastating effect on the self image of a child. They can make a child feel unworthy, bad, unloved. The most frequent response to such messages is to give one back to the parent. ("And you're a big nag." "Look who's calling who lazy.")
  • When a child gets such a message from a parent who is trying to influence him, he is less likely to change by looking at himself realistically. Instead he can zero in on the parent's unfair message and excuse himself. ("I do NOT look like a loser-that's ridiculous and unfair.")

Example of Roadblock #8: Teen says to brother, "I got a 'D' on that test. I was sure I'd get at least a 'B'." Brother says, "You're just stupid."


  • Such messages communicate to the child that the parent has him "figured out", knows what his motives are or why he is behaving the way he is. Such parental psycho-analyzing can be threatening and frustrating to the child.
  • If the parents' analysis or interpretation happens to be accurate, the child may feel embarrassed at being exposed. ("You are not having dates because you are too shy." "You are doing that just to get attention.")
  • When the parents' analysis or interpretation is wrong as it more often is, the child will become angry of being accused unjustly. ("I am not jealous-that's ridiculous.")
  • Children often pick up an attitude of superiority on the part of the parent. ("You think you know so much.")
  • Parents who frequently analyze their children communicate to them that the parents feel superior, wiser, more clever.
  • The "I know why" and "I can see through you" messages frequently cut off further communication from the child at the moment and teach the child to refrain from sharing problems with his parents.

Example of Roadblock #9: Friend says to friend/teammate, "Now that you're team captain, you always defend the coach." Friend saya, "You're saying that 'cause you're jealous."


  • Such messages are not as helpful as most parents believe. To reassure a child when he is feeling disturbed about something, you may simply convince him that you don't understand him. ("You couldn't say that if knew how scared I am.")
  • Parents reassure and console because they are not comfortable with their child's feeling hurt, upset, discouraged and the like. Such messages tell a child that you want him to stop feeling the way he does. ("Don't feel bad, things will turn out all right.")
  • Children can see through parents' reassurances as attempts to change them and often distrust the parent. ("You're just saying that to make me feel better.")
  • Discounting or sympathizing often stops further communication because the child sense you want him to stop feeling the way he does.

Example of Roadblock #10: Child says to parents, "You guys argue SO much. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to come home." Parents say, "Oh, come on! It's not that bad. All parents fight."


  • To ask questions may convey to children your lack of trust, your suspicion or doubt. ("Did you wash your hands like I told you?").
  • Children also see through some questions as attempts "to get them out on a limb," only to have it sawed off by the parent. ("How long did you study? Only an hour? Well, you deserve a `C' on that exam.")
  • Children often feel threatened by questions especially when they don't understand why the parent is questioning them. Note how often children say, "Why are you asking that?" or "What are you driving at?"
  • If you question a child who is sharing a problem with you he may suspect that you are gathering data to solve his problem for him rather than let him find his own solution. ("When did you start feeling this way?" "Does it have anything to do with school?" "How is school?") Children frequently do not want their parents to come up with answers to their problems: "If I tell my parents, they will only tell me what I should do."
  • When you ask questions of someone who is sharing a problem with you each question limits the person's freedom to talk about whatever he wants to-in a sense each question dictates his next message. If you ask, "When did you notice this feeling?", you are telling the person to talk only about the onset of the feeling and nothing else. This is why being cross-examined as by a lawyer is so terribly uncomfortable, you feel you must tell your story exactly as demanded by his questions. So interrogating is not at all a good method of facilitating another's communication; rather it can severely limit his freedom.

Example of Roadblock #11: Son says to mom, "Dad is pressuring me to try out for the football team. I hate football and I'm no good at it." Mom says, "Do you think he wants you to play because he was on his school team?


  • Such messages can communicate to the child that you're not interested in him, don't respect his feelings or are downright rejecting him.
  • Children are generally quite serious and intent when they need to talk about something. When you respond with kidding, you can make them feel hurt and rejected.
  • Putting children off or diverting their feelings may for the moment appear successful but a person's feelings do not always go away. They often crop up later. Problems put off are problems seldom solved.
  • Children, like adults, want to be heard and understood respectfully. If their parents brush them aside, they soon learn to take their important feelings and problems elsewhere.

Example of Roadblock #12: Daughter says to dad, "Chris isn't texting me back. I bet he wants to break up with me." Dad says, "Hmmm,...well, come on...let's go get something to eat."