Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Crucial Conversations for Kids

Dear Crucial Skills,

Do you think children could use the skills taught in Crucial Conversations? If so, do you have any suggestions for how I might adapt the lessons for them?

Parent and Conversation Coach

Dear Parent,

Unequivocally, yes! As a mom to three kids (ages 10, 8, and 8) and a stepmom to seven kids (ages 17 to 33), I can personally attest that kids can learn the skills of Crucial Conversations. I also know many of my fellow trainers have taught their children the skills of Crucial Conversations with success and impact.

The question of “adapting” the lessons for them is a little trickier. We don’t have enough experience to date with formal instruction for me to confidently say, “Here is the lesson plan for Get Unstuck for seven-year-olds.” Although, should any of our readers have such, please comment below, as we’d love to know what’s working!

I will share four suggestions for how you can help kids learn these valuable skills.

Model with Narration

Several good studies have shown that children tend to use the conflict resolution strategies that they see used by their parents and others in their home. So, simply by effectively holding Crucial Conversations yourself, you are teaching your children how to use the skills.

For younger kids, I have found that modeling with narration is even more powerful. So much of what we do during a Crucial Conversation happens inside our heads. Mastering our stories, clarifying our intent, and attending to the conditions of a conversation all happen silently and out of sight. For younger kids, it can help to model not just the result (your words) but also the process (your thinking).

For example, imagine I am frustrated with a neighbor whose dog has confused my yard for its bathroom. One day as I am out in the yard playing with my kids, I step in the moist, putrid evidence of this. What is my response? I get frustrated, decide it is time to have a conversation. But, before I do, I work through my emotions, clarify my good intent, and think about how I will start the conversation. What my kids see is my frustration. To truly model the skills, I need to narrate what I’m thinking. I might say something like:

“Wow. That is so gross. And frustrating. I think I am especially frustrated because the story I am telling myself right now is that our neighbor doesn’t even care about or respect us enough to pick up after his dog. But you know what? Maybe there is more to this than I really know. Maybe he doesn’t realize this is happening. Or maybe something is going on with him right now that makes it hard to care for his dog. I think I’ll go talk to him about it, because what I really want is for us to be good neighbors to each other.”

When you model with narration, you show your kids how our thinking sets the tone for the entire conversation.

Acknowledge the Misses

This is a corollary, if you will, to modelling with narration. Because none of us is perfect, we will inevitably model poor communication behavior as well. It is essential that we call that out when we do, lest our kids confuse the poor model with the good.

I know that my poor communication behavior is directly related to bedtime. No other situation triggers me like children who will not brush their teeth and get in bed at night when I am tired. More than once, I have tucked a child in at night and said, “Hey, I am sorry about what just happened. I didn’t handle that well. When I stepped on the razor-sharp Lego you left on the floor in front of your bed, I shouldn’t have yelled. I bet that was a little scary for you. I am sorry. I’ll do my best to handle things better next time.”

Role Play

I believe there is an inverse relationship between age and enjoyment of role play. When I tell a class of 45-year-old engineers that it is time to practice the skills we are learning, it’s as though the air has been sucked right of the room. In contrast, kids love to practice and role play, especially when they are anxious about a situation, conversation, or relationship.

For example, my daughter needs to have a conversation with a teacher about a grade she feels is unfair. She is nervous about the conversation and doesn’t want to offend the teacher. She does want to advocate for herself. This is a great opportunity to say, “Let’s talk through how to have this conversation. Here are a couple of ideas.” And, once you have done that, invite her to practice: “Let’s try this out. I’ll be the teacher and try to look really scary and intimidating (ha ha)!”

I find this works particularly well with kids in that stage between nine and fourteen years old.

Name the Feeling

Successful Crucial Conversations largely depend upon the emotions we bring to them. For kids, emotions can be scary and overwhelming as they flood through their bodies. Kids are just learning how to regulate those emotions and a key part of that is naming them. Giving your kids vocabulary to help them identify and differentiate emotions is a key part of learning to regulate those emotions.

Earlier this year, my then seven-year-old superglued the keys of our baby grand piano, and then lied about it. My husband, thinking the keyboard cover was simply jammed, tried to pry it open. Suffice it to say, damage ensued. As we stood their looking at the ruined piano, I took a deep breath and then said, “I need to go outside.”

My then nine-year-old daughter came out to check on me. She asked, “Are you angry?” I thought for a moment and then said, “No. I am feeling a lot of things right now, but anger isn’t one of them.” She nodded sagely and said, “Ah, yes, you are in the bottom of the anger iceberg.” The anger iceberg is a graphic representation that we have used to discuss all the different kinds of emotions that can, on the surface, show up as anger. It has given my kids a way to access and talk about their feelings, which is the first step to managing them.

These are just a few of the strategies that have helped me to teach my kids how to navigate their Crucial Conversations, build relationships, and strengthen connection. I’d love to hear what you have done to teach your kids. Please add your suggestions in the comments section below. We will all be richer for it.


More From Our Master Trainers

As I prepared to respond to your question, I contacted some of our Crucial Learning faculty to get their insights. Thanks to Cricket Buchler, Nicky Samuels, and Melanie Gao for sharing their wisdom. With their permission, I’ve included their ideas here.

  • I often will ask my kids to summarize what they heard their siblings (or me) saying during a moment of conflict. Example: “We want to hear your side of things. But first, would you mind paraphrasing what you just heard your sister say so she feels understood?” Then I prompt them with sample language they can use. “What I hear you saying is…”
  • When kids get reactive to a conversation and lead with their disagreement, I will say, “I understand that you disagree with me. You want me to know that… (paraphrase what they’ve said). Aside from what you clearly disagree with, is there anything I said you can agree with?”
  • My eleven-year-old was trying to be the mediator between her two friends, and I coached her to use the skills of Contrasting and Start with Heart. “Hey I am not taking sides here. I love you both, and I want us all to get along. Can we talk about what happened between you?”
  • To help kids feel psychologically safe to talk in heated situations, I use empathy statements and ask questions like these: How did that make you feel? What do you want to do about it? What makes you scared to have the conversation? If you have a conversation, what do hope will happen? Then we work towards what they want.
  • When I first taught my kids about healthy dialogue, I didn’t realize they were going to hold me accountable to it. They often called me out when I shut down or became passive-aggressive. At first I didn’t like that, but I disciplined myself to hear them. That was hard for me as a parent because I wanted to be the teacher, the one who had it all under control. Looking back, I realize they were teaching me in those moments. It was humbling to realize that they were even better than me at staying in dialogue.
You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

13 thoughts on “Crucial Conversations for Kids”

  1. Ann Sansing

    I think this idea for educating kids is wonderful. I look forward to more on this matter!

    Happy Holidays!
    Ann Sansing

    1. Grace-Anne Post

      I agree. Empowering our youth with strong, healthy conversation skills would be an asset throughout their lives. I work with children and families in my career and have some thoughts on how we might collaborate with a course offering. Feel free to contact me if you’d like.

  2. Aileen Ordonez

    I am an assistant principal in NYC and I use this with my high school students all the time. I love it as it teaches children how to communicate better.

  3. Russell Virgin

    I work in early childhood education and if you every wanted help creating a curriculum for children or parents I would love to contribute.

  4. Dawn

    Insightful read. If I missed having Crucial Conversations with my “Kids”, how do I navigate conversations with my young adults who developed poor communications skills and avoidance of healthy dialogue in crucial conversations, especially when opportunities are scarce.

  5. Teresa Barry

    Please please please consider writing a CC book for teens!

  6. Crizzle

    This is wonderful and so important. I love the idea of being open to kids helping parents hold themselves to account as well as vice versa. I know this journey will be challenging (I have a 6 month old) but I’m excited to give it my best shot, and learn as I go. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

  7. Stephanie Lynch

    A great resource for social and emotional guidance and dialogue with children is the Conscious Discipline book by Dr. Becky Bailey. This is a video on Conscious Discipline Basics to share:

    I would love to see Crucial Learning for Kids as a new book and training resource!

  8. Paula Hedges

    I love that you wrote this, thank you! I’m learning this stuff in my 40’s (better late than never) but I’ve missed so many opportunities across my lifetime due to lack of knowledge. So often we hear of conflict that impacts our kids greatly. This whole concept of Crucial Conversation is an essential life skill that should be a mandatory subject at school to the same level as spelling and maths. I encourage you, to not stop at this one article, as awesome as it is, please keep going! I totally agree with the above comment to write a CC book for tweens. This is such a mouldable stage, before the tricky teenage years where good habits and cognitive thinking is developing.
    I work with tweens and this teaching is so value, by creating content for tweens in this area you would not only are you teaching and helping each individual, but this would then bring influence to families and communities, one crucial conversation at a time. I want to hear more. I want to buy the book and run the course with our next generation. Thank you for starting the conversation. This is yet another crucial conversation in and of itself!!

  9. Tim V

    Wow.. if I knew then what I know now. I would love to go back and raise my children all over again

  10. Sarah Dickinson

    I give my kids a chance to correct what they said. For example, they will say “I don’t want to do my chores!” I’ll say, “That was not very nice of you to shout at me. Can you please do it over?” and they will then rephrase it, “Mom, I am in the middle of a game with my friends, can I do my chores in half an hour?” And yes, sometimes I need a do-over also!

  11. Jen Giomi

    I came to Crucial Conversations through a friend of mine who is a lead trainer. I attended a 16-hour training and loved it. At the time I thought I might work to become a trainer as well. In a long and winding road, I’m now a facilitator for a social emotional learning non-profit working with parents, caregivers and teachers. The work is rooted in Adlerian Psychology and more recently Positive Discipline, very much aligned with Conscious Discipline (mentioned above). I 100% agree with a previous commentor that this communication information needs to be taught in schools everywhere. It is happening but on a small scale, . It needs to happen everywhere! Would love to partner with Crucial Conversations!

  12. Hannah Garfinkel

    I would love a CC for kids/teens and/or a curriculum! I work very closely with middle schoolers and there is such a need. I infuse as much CC as I can but it would be so helpful to have something formal for guidance. Our school has recently integrated Responsibility Centered Discipline (“Give Them Five”) and a CC guide for teachers would be a great tool for them to use with it.

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