Communicating with children can be a great struggle, regardless of their age! I can’t imagine there’s a single parent out there who hasn’t had a problem with this at some point of their parenting journey; myself included!
So, if communicating with children is such a problem for so many parents, how do we get through to them and encourage them to do the things we ask?
We need to start by understanding that our toddler/child is pretty much like everyone else in the world – wholly focused on their own self-importance! That may sound harsh, but hear me out…
In the book, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People‘, Dale Carnegie explains that one of the keys to being the person that everyone enjoys talking to and seems to make easy connections with is being wholeheartedly interested in what the other person is saying.
The truth is, that a number of us can’t wait for the other person to finish talking so we can tell them about all of the fantastic things we’ve done. The same is true for social media, we post pictures of our holidays and food expecting other people to be interested in what we’re doing.
Your child is the person that’s eagerly waiting for the other person to finish speaking, so they can get on and concern themselves with what they want to do. For toddlers, this could be learning, for older children, this could be playing a video game or talking to their friends.
They don’t necessarily have time to worry about your needs when theirs seems to be abundant.
So how can we get through to them?
Now that you understand a little about how involved they are in what they’re doing, I find that the best way to get through to a child is to explain the situation. By ‘explain the situation’, I mean let them know what’s in it for them. This is a powerful tool from toddler to adulthood.
When my daughter doesn’t want to go to her grandparents for daycare and is kicking up a fuss, I remind her of all the fun she normally has and the greek yoghurt ice cream she loves that her grandma gives her. The dog that she likes chasing and the tea parties she has with her grandma and cuddly toys.
Next thing you know she’s packing her own bag and standing by the door rushing me to leave! The truth is your child will likely want to do their own thing unless you can explain why doing your thing will benefit them more. Sometimes you really have to sell it.
Does this work in every situation
NO. Your child may still want their way – imagine being in the middle of a task, someone comes along, picks you up and takes you away from what you were completing.
It’s safe to say that most of you would be incredibly frustrated! Often called when in the middle of a task – I’m seldom ready to stop at the drop of a hat, so I don’t. I ask for some time to complete what I’m doing before I am ready to do what I am asked to – unless it is an emergency of course!
The same applies to your child… give them time – don’t expect them to stop what they’re doing at the drop of a hat. The crying and screaming is their way of showing frustration at their lack of control and forced removal from their task; they may struggle to communicate in ANY way when these feelings take over.
This is often what is known as a tantrum.
Communicating with children the right way
1. Explain your point
2. Don't lie to your child!
This leads nicely on from the last point. When communicating with children, make sure you do what you say you’ll do! If your child doesn’t trust you to keep your word, no tips will work.
I have never lied to my daughter, although there have been many occasions where this would have been the easier thing to do. I guess start as you mean to go on. I tend not to lie in day to day life on a day to day basis, so this isn’t too difficult.
It’s important you don’t underestimate your child’s intelligence, they are absorbing everything and making little judgements about what is going on around them. If you want to raise a resilient, honest and disciplined child, make sure you too are honest and lead by example. If you lie to your child, don’t be surprised if they learn to lie to you.
Teach them to be truthful.
3. Know what your child responds to
One of the biggest keys to success when communicating with children is observing how your child responds to different things.
We know our daughter thrives off praise. She absolutely loves attention for doing something good! So we make sure she is always praised for doing something well. We even went a step further and created a sticker chart to encourage and reinforce good behaviours.
Make sure when praising your little one that you’re specific about what they’ve done and make a massive fuss! Try to do this as soon as they have done something well, don’t wait and talk about it later as they may not remember.
Our daughter now loves tidying up after she has thrown all the books on the floor – she knows she will get a massive clap, smiles, hugs, praise and a sticker! This also helps her develop her fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination!
4. Be patient
If you don’t have any, you’re going to have to find some, and I mean loads!
Patience is incredibly important as the given tips won’t work every time, trust me I know – especially in the beginning. Make sure you’re being consistent in your approach and try not to lose your temper because your child isn’t doing exactly what you want. They may well be doing what they want and you’re stopping them. It could be frustrating to all parties involved.
My daughter HATED changing her nappy; I would spend hours talking to her and trying to convince her that she should lie down to change the nappy.
Sometimes these methods work, however, sometimes she flat out refuses, telling me “NO!” and walking off to do something else.
Remember parenting isn’t about our fragile egos or raising obedient puppets. It’s about raising a nurtured and cared for child and giving them the best possible life and opportunities. Patience is the key here.
By stopping and forcing your child to submit to your will, you’re teaching them to submit, when what you really want is for them to understand and see the benefits of what you’re doing. All I can say is do your best to be patient and don’t beat yourself up if you lose your temper, parenting is hard.
This is not to say that your child is in charge – by no means is this the case. But they should be allowed the opportunity to express themselves. Remember, communication is a two-way street, but at the end of the day, your word is final.
5. Body language
Communicating with children isn’t just verbal, our body language plays a big part.
Imagine you’re talking to your boss at work and they’re towering over you, it can be quite daunting, even imposing. The same is true when talking to children, there’s quite a difference in our height to theirs.
Why not try coming down to their level and talking to them face to face. When your child is making eye contact with you, they may well find them more receptive.
Body language can also mean wagging your finger or even standing with your hands on your hips. We have to be careful with this, our children are like little sponges and tend to emulate us. One of my sister’s children started copying her teacher by telling other children off with her hands on her hips.
Similarly, you don’t want that bossy child who stands there wagging their finger at people. My daughter has her mother’s finger, she’s used it to tell off many a child and adult. Bad habit but incredibly cute!
6. Control your tone
Controlling your tone when communicating with children is incredibly important and a lot harder than it seems. For someone who unconsciously uses an aggressive or cross tone when speaking, this is really hard to control.
Unfortunately now, when I think I’m using a cross tone with my daughter, she thinks I’m playing… Not the desired effect!
Try to be as mindful of this as you can, we don’t want our children to feel threatened or as though they can’t talk to us when they need to. Our aim should be to make us approachable, not have children who don’t open up to us.
7. Talk to them, not at them
Communicating with your child the right way requires you to talk to them, not at them. A great book that will help to develop this, would be ‘How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk‘. But what does this look like?
Try to engage them in the communication, you can do this by checking their understanding. This technique will work really well with older children as their levels of understanding will be greater. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t start this technique from as young as 1 years old. This is a brilliant method of teaching your toddlers discipline as well as your older children.
Ask them questions to check their understanding.
You could even ask them how they feel about the situation, these questions will need to be tailored to the age of the child though. You can’t expect a toddler to be able to respond to the same questions as an older child.
Make sure your questions aren’t just ‘do you understand?‘ Through my many years of teaching, I can tell you that scores of children who don’t understand will just say they do… This could be to ‘not look stupid’ or even to just move on. We need to encourage higher-order thinking.
Depending on what you’re talking to them about, this could be through getting to remember things you have previously said, understanding why you said them as well as apply what you’ve said to the current situation.
Get them to analyse what’s being said and take apart what you’re saying for greater clarity. Evaluate how what you’re saying makes the two of you feel and why they acted in that way. Then create scenarios or even activities to put what you have said into practice and find a potential resolution.
8. Be an active listener, don't be a passive one
When communicating with children, it is important to be fully present. Avoid using your phone, computer or even watching tv while this is happening. It’ll be hard enough to talk to your children as they get older, take advantage now and start understanding them.
Your child is important – show them.
I know often when I’m working at home or teaching at school, that a child will come and speak to me about something, be it my daughter or someone else’s. If your child wants to talk to you about something, even if it seems trivial, that something may well be important to them.
If possible, don’t just stare at your screen or continue with whatever else you are doing, engage with them and show them you are interested. Failing to do this could lead to a child that doesn’t want to share their news or thoughts with you. This tip is really good to help build and sustain a bond with your child.
Tips for active listening:
- make eye contact
- stay focused on what they’re saying
- don’t interrupt, even if you disagree or want to fix it (guilty of this…)
- try to see things from their point of view rather than your own (you don’t want them to feel judged)
- Show you’re listening by asking questions or commenting on what they’re saying
- Empathy goes a long way
The list could go on but here are a few to help you on your way. I’ll create a post on this to give you more information.
As you can see, communicating with children isn’t that dissimilar to communicating with adults. If you employ respect and engagement in what others are saying, then you encourage it back.
As mentioned above, it may not always be convenient for you to stop what you’re doing and actively listen. Trust me, I know. As a teacher you always have people coming to you to talk – adults and children. Although the adults should really be able to pick up on your body language a little better and ask if you’re free. Some haven’t quite figured this out yet…
If you don’t have the time or are fully engaged in something – you are important too! Just let them know that you can give them attention in a short while and ask them to come back after x amount of time.
For your child, let them know that you really want to know what they have to say, but you need to just finish what you are doing first. Make them aware that you want to give them your undivided attention, but to do so, you will need to quickly finish what you are doing.
This will show them that they’re important and will help with their self-esteem. Good luck with this, it will really help to build your relationship with your children. Side note, apply this to your relationships and it’ll also be a win!
9. Be firm but fair
At the end of the day, your word is final and your child needs to know that. More often than not, your child will accept this, even if they don’t like it.
Make sure your child is aware of your rules from the beginning and why those rules are there, they should have no problem following them, or accepting the consequences of breaking those rules.
I employ this same tactic with my daughter and all my classes. I have very few behavioural problems across all my classes. Make sure you follow through with your sanctions consistently, this way they won’t come as a shock.
It will be unfair if you don’t always follow these rules and you pick and choose when to employ them. They won’t know when to follow the rules and when they don’t count.
This can be incredibly confusing and cause frustration and arguments.
10. Lead by example!
“Do as I say and not as I do”. This does not command respect.
If you want your child to respect and not resist you, you have to lead the way. The same in the classroom, you can’t tell the children to not use their phone, yet you sit at your desk while texting friends… it’s not on and it causes tension between you and the children/people you are leading.
Another example of this is to not ask someone to do something for you, you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. This could be a chore around the house or anything for that matter.
As your child gets older, they will start to emulate you. You can’t smoke 20 cigarettes a day and tell your child not to smoke because it is bad for their health.
The same applies to alcohol consumption. Show your child right from wrong and they will follow you. If you spend all your time sitting down watching tv, your child will likely grow up to emulate similar behaviour.
I bet you are wondering – “how does this link to communication?”
Here we need to employ some of that delayed gratification I was talking to you about earlier. This may not affect your communication instantly, however, as your child grows – they will question you and argue with you. Children are sponges – believe me, they will retain because they are learning your behaviour.
Communicating with children is the key. You are showing them how to communicate, so you need to lead. If you don’t want to raise a child who spends their whole day shouting at others, you can’t spend the whole day shouting at your family. They learn a lot more from us than we initially realise, especially what is right and wrong.
Following the above 10 tips will make communicating with children a cinch!
If we take the time to explain why and give them reasons to follow our instructions, these two things in themselves will be super helpful.
By employing these strategies, as well as leading by example and speaking to them on a level will produce astonishing results! Remember, it is us who has to teach them the rules of communication.
Good luck on your journey! I know you’ll do splendidly!