Parents’ roles when communicating with children

Have you ever noticed that you change your attitude or your "role" when talking with your children in different situations?

These roles are influenced by our personality, our idea of parenting, our own communication style, the challenge of everyday situations and our children's communication styles...

What seems easy or obvious in communicating with anyone  – not only our children! – is not! 


Elaine Weitzman (2017) emphasizes 6 typical roles of parents when communicating with children:

  • Director role
  • Tester role
  • Entertainer role
  • Helper role
  • Mover role
  • Watcher role

In the following I explain how Elaine Weitzman defines each role and explore it for any kind of communication with children of different age and skills.


We play the director role when we decide what our children wear, eat, when they do homework, go to bed etc. When we play this role we tend to do more of the talking and tell our children what to do, how to do it, when, and when not... We tend to speak to our children – not with them! When playing the director role, we are not engaging in a conversation

Typical situations when we play the director role are:

  • when we are in a hurry,
  • when our children are in a hurry,
  • when we are stressed,
  • when we are tired,
  • when things need to be done quickly/efficiently...

How to get out of the director role: 

  • let our children decide what to wear, when and how to do things.
  • let them lead the conversation, game, activity.


We play the tester role when we want our children to learn a new skill, or literally "test" them on a new skill... When our children are not developing language or any skill as expected, we tend to work even harder to help them learn. We become insistent (almost nagging). We take the role of the tester, asking lots of questions to find out what our children have learned.

Typical situations when we play the tester role are:

  • when we are insecure about our children's skills
  • when we worry about our children not meeting someone's expectations 

How to get out of the tester role:

  • observe our children whilst using the skill
  • try to enjoy the moment with our children whilst hey are using the skill 


We play the entertainer role when we have fun. We then tend to do all it takes to keep our children amused. We tend to do all the talking and playing, and sometimes take the lead...

Typical situations when we play the entertainer role:

  • during celebrations where there are other children, friends, family members present,
  • when we feel like we need to "entertain" to bridge the gap (for example the silence gap between cultures, ways to do things etc.)
  • when we feel insecure about something, and taking control reassures us

How to get out of the entertainer role:

  • "pass on the baton" to someone else, our children for example
  • change into the role of a "participant" of the game or activity 


We assume the helper role when our children have a hard time. We then tend to do everything to make life easier for our children. If our children are emergent speakers, we might tend to respond to our children's gestures instead of fostering their verbal skills. If they are older and struggling with communicating, we tend to "solve the problem" by talking on their behalf...

Typical situations when we play the helper role:

  • when our children are struggling, or seem to be struggling
  • when we are worried about our children's wellbeing
  • when we assume that our children need our help

How to get out of the helper role:

  • take a step back and see how much help, and what kind of help our children actually need
  • consider if "not helping" could be a way to help instead – not helping doesn't always mean "not caring"!


We play the mover role when we keep on determining the pace. 

Typical situations when we play the mover role:

  • when we are in a hurry,
  • when we are busy and the schedule doesn't (seem to) allow us "time" or any delay

How to get out of the mover role:

  • slow down: adjusting our pace doesn't mean to stop moving...
  • acknowledge that we are under time pressure and find out how we can avoid this


We play the watcher role when we are watching our children without interacting with them, when we don't join in when they play, read or talk. We sometimes end up only commenting from a distance.

Typical situations when we play the watcher role:

  • when we are not sure about our role in the situation (how much and what we are allowed to do)
  • when we are tired/exhausted (in need of a break)

How to get out of the watcher role:

  • ask what we can do, how we can participate (in the play, game, activity, conversation...)
  • adjust to the children's pace and level, and find a common ground to interact


If you notice that you tend to play the same role in different situations when interacting with your children, try to "get out of that role" and tune in with them. Tune into your children's interests, pace to do things and way to communicate.

Especially when we use also different languages, communication can become way more complex, and the role we play in conversations with our children can depend on the confidence we have by using the target language. The same applies to our children and every other person involved in the conversation or communication. 


If you observe that another adult – your partner, a caretaker, a teacher, a professional – plays a role with your child that doesn't seem to lead to an effective communication and healthy connection, consider sharing these tips with them.


If you want to know more about how to foster effective communication in your family, with your children, then contact me to explore ways that I can help you.


This post is inspired by Elaine Weitzman (2017) It Takes Two To TalkA Practical Guide for Parents of Children with Language Delays, Toronto ON, The Hanen Center. I have developed the tips she shares in the book and on the website, and adapted them to the communication with children in general, and multilingual children in particular.

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