Communicating with Children

“Listen to what I Say!”

When consistently practised by parents and children, effective communication skills will bring about a greatly enhanced family life. The importance of conversing regularly and positively with children cannot be underestimated. Learning to communicate properly and to understand the basics of child development can make a big difference to our lives. Having interesting conversations with our children and really listening to them will help to build a satisfying relationship with them. Showing that we care about their well-being and their growth as well-rounded citizens is vital. As our children advance, they will tend to follow the example of the key people in their lives.

Listening and Speaking Skills

When someone is listening fully they usually use eye contact, they make regular utterances and their faces keep changing expression. They turn toward us. They may ask questions or reflect back meaning or feelings. Children will greatly appreciate being carefully listened to. We need to be careful not to interrupt or change the topic that they are talking about. If we can truly listen and validate their emotions and thoughts we will be better able to bond positively with them. Eg “You seem to be pretty upset that Nanna is leaving.”

Listening and Speaking Skills - Communicating with Children

We also need to try to imagine an experience from our child’s perspective. Eg” The vacuum cleaner is pretty loud and scarey isn’t it?” or “Starting Secondary College is pretty daunting isn’t it?” Speaking properly means getting the volume, intonation, wording, tone and phrasing right. It is vital that we move close, get down to their level and speak with enthusiasm and a calm manner most of the time. If our older children ask us to do something or ask for a particular thing, we do not need to answer yes or no immediately.

We can tell them that we will consider the request for a certain amount of time. Eg” I will have a think about it for a while and let you know at lunch time”. We then need to follow through with letting them know at that time. Sometimes we need to consult with others, including family members. If we decide to deny the request, it’s a good idea to give a reason and refuse to be provoked into an argument. “I don’t want you to go down the street without footwear, because there may be broken glass on the ground and you could cut yourself.”

Our children often need to be soothed and comforted when they are upset. Body language is very important. We need to encourage thinking and problem solving by getting our children to think about what they would like to happen. “How could we save electricity in our home?”

Explanations for preventing angst

Young children need to be constantly kept informed of what is happening and what is coming up in order for them to feel secure and safe. Eg This afternoon, after your sleep, we will be going to the supermarket to get some milk and bread”. When we leave our children with others or on their own, we need to let them know where we are going and when we will return. A young child can be told that we will be back after lunch or after their sleep for example.

Explanations for preventing angst - Communicating with Children

They also need to know who will be looking after them and be familiar with that person. We may need to spend time with both the carer and our child, so that she can feel more secure when we leave. It is important to say goodbye with a hug and kiss and to leave straight away.

The younger child may be upset but will settle soon after the parent leaves, if he is normally a stable child. Of course, picking our child up on time is extremely important in the early years, in order for trust to develop. A child who has a problem doesn’t have a realistic idea of how long the issue will affect him and needs reassurance. “Sarah will take good care of you until I come back and your teddy is in your bag”. Giving children a choice between two things can empower them and lead to better co-operation. Eg. “Would you like to wear this or this?” or “Would you like to go to this park or this one?

Encouraging Verbalisation

Asking questions regularly throughout the day is one of the ways to encourage our children to express themselves articulately. If we can show interest, resist interrogating and abstain from being judgemental, our children will be more likely to share their experiences, feelings and thoughts. Sometimes they need to talk for a while to get things off their chests. Encouraging children to ask properly for what they want, and not responding to grunts (when the child can do better), is wise.

Encouraging Verbalisation - Communicating with Children

If we notice that our children’s language is imperfect and we criticise their efforts constantly, our children will feel frustrated and deficient, and are likely to talk to us less often. Children need lots of encouragement and virtually no criticism. Sharing our own ideas, emotions and experiences in suitable language for our children will motivate them to verbalise as well. “I am feeling sad because my best friend is moving a long way away”. We need to be careful not to overwhelm them with too much information though.

Crucial Conversations

Having interesting and friendly conversations with our children will improve our relationship with them significantly. They love to hear about our experiences in the past and present, and our plans for the future. Even babies that can’t express themselves in words will adore our animated voices. Older children appreciate a humourous story and will join in with their own ditties.

We can ask our children open-ended questions to encourage them to share their observations, thoughts, knowledge and feelings. Eg, “What happened at the excursion today” or “What do you think about _?” It is really important for parents to organise regular occasions for conversing eg, mealtimes, driving times, bed times and screen-free times. We don’t always need to talk with older children straight away.

Crucial Conversations - Communicating with Children

They are able to wait a little while until we wish to talk about a particular matter. If we criticise our children when they open up to us, they are less likely to confide in us in the future. We would do well to distinguish the behaviour from the child and refrain from calling the child a derogatory name. Eg “Stupid boy, Bad child, You are hopeless!” It is good if we can admit when we are wrong. Sometimes our children remind us of experiences we had when growing up, and it is great if we can share some of these. Eg “When I was a girl, I got into big trouble for playing near the creek and falling in with my school uniform on.”

When children ask questions, it is often wise to find out what the child already knows so that we can be more relevant to their understanding. Eg “What do you know about smoking?” Children need to know what is negotiable and what is not, on a consistent basis. “If you want to eat a sandwich you need to sit at the table here or outside”. This avoids a lot of argument. It is quite acceptable to turn away or walk away from a child who is attempting to provoke an argument in order to gain power or attention.

Linguistic Experiences

One of my favourite ways of developing language in children is sharing books with them. We can sit close to them, read, ask them to find things on the page, ask them what is coming up and get their opinion on something. We can be reminded of things that we have done in the past that we can tell our children about. We might suggest that our children make something or research a particular subject that is of special interest to them.

Linguistic Experiences - Communicating with Children

We may wish to teach something that we feel the child might benefit from, or we might clarify something that the child is confused about or interested in. We may be reminded of a song that is related to something we read to them and maybe even get to sing it! Running commentaries, where we tell our youngsters what we are doing and what we can see, are really valuable for language acquisition when our children are young.

Here are some suggestions for linguistic experiences:

• Library

• Outings

• Songs

• Puppets

• Talking cds, DVDs, films,

• Socialising with friends, family.

• Cooking

• Art and Craft activities

Telling and Reading stories, books.

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