As children, we have all had experiences that shaped the person we are today. Whether negative or positive, the things we witness as children have a direct impact on us as adults. As soon as children are born, they begin to soak up their environment like a sponge!
It’s no secret that trauma in the form of abuse or neglect will have extreme effects on a child’s development. However, many people don’t realize that much smaller, seemingly unimportant behavior will also impact the ideas and feelings a child develops.
If we are not aware of the behaviors that are positively and negatively affecting children, how are we supposed to adjust ourselves to create the healthiest possible environment?
Well, I created a list of dos and don’ts for interacting with children. This list highlights those behaviors that may seem insignificant but make all the difference.
Encourage the curiosity that children naturally have. Kids’ brains are just filled with questions, wonder, and a desire to learn. It’s no wonder they need a broken down, detailed explanation for everything!
I get it, questioning can be annoying when your student or kiddo fires off 20 questions in a two-minute period. Although this can be overwhelming, try your best to give them actual answers, rather than shutting them down. Answering questions and encouraging curiosity will make kids feel much more excited about school and learning.
Put a limit on the number of questions a child is allowed to ask. When you’re busy and need to have your focus in a certain place at a certain time, answering all of the questions a child has can be difficult. If you’re busy, instead of giving a short answer or ignoring the question altogether, put the question in a “box” that will later be opened and explored.
If you seem like you’re aggravated or annoyed when kids ask you questions, they may begin to feel like they are doing something wrong by asking.
Adults often struggle when a child begins to ask questions regarding punishment. For example, if you tell a young child to go to their room, or another time-out spot, they might ask you why. Adults often misinterpret this as disrespect, which it usually is not intended to be.
Kids genuinely want to know why they are being asked to do something, and even if you gave them warnings about that behavior, they probably forgot. The attention span of a child is so much smaller than an adult’s.
Give kids plenty of opportunities to talk. Kids love to talk. In fact, children are much better at talking than they are at listening. Although practice of both skills is necessary, allowing a child plenty of time to speak will enhance those language skills.
A great way to encourage a child to talk is by asking questions that are open-ended. You could ask them how their trip to the zoo was, how their day at school went, what their favorite part of the day was, etc. It’s important to ask questions that stimulate their memory and give them a chance to express themselves.
Cut them off when they are in the middle of a story, even if they have been talking for a while. While the subject they are talking about may not seem compelling to you, they are telling you for a reason. If they choose to talk about a topic, that means it is important to them. Sometimes we need to be patient and listen so somebody else can feel validated.
If for some reason you have to do something that cannot be put off until the conversation is over, put it in a box like I mentioned earlier. Let them know that you want to hear all about it in a little bit and try to remember to ask them about it if they forgot.
Dominating a conversation does not always need to be an adult’s job. Children have so much to say when given the chance, so let them take the lead sometimes. You will be so surprised by the interesting and intuitive things they tell you!
Give kids the ability to make choices when possible. When children are able to make choices for themselves, their ability to be independent will grow drastically. While you’re packing their lunch, ask them if they would prefer a banana or an apple. Or, ask them which sport they would like to get involved in rather than choosing for them.
Begin doing this from as young of an age as you can. When children start talking, they are capable of making simple decisions. Start really small, like holding up two pairs of shoes and letting them pick one.
Make a choice for a kiddo and just expect them to follow it. In order to be a self-sufficient adult, a child needs to be able to make choices from time to time. If that responsibility is not given to them when they are younger, they will struggle to make decisions as they get older.
Think about it like this; Your parents have made decisions for you for your entire life, then all at once you have to make huge decisions like what college you want to go to, or what you want to study. How overwhelming would that be? Children who are not given enough freedom often experience anxiety when they are faced with a need to be independent.
It’s fair to feel strongly about certain choices, you can definitely save some choices for parents. However, the pair of shoes a child wears, or the color headband really is not going to affect you in the long run, will it?
Acknowledge good and bad behavior. If kids only get recognition when they behave poorly, they will begin to lack in the self-esteem department. These children often feel like they are “bad kids,” and they may begin to act out more since negative attention is better than no attention.
Adults don’t really forget to discipline kids by providing negative reinforcement. We send kids to a time-out area, take toys away, or lecture a child when they have messed up. While we do this, we need to remember to praise children when they do something awesome.
If the child helped you clean up, they shared with a friend, or they said something very nice, this is behavior that should be rewarded from an early age. Sometimes parents don’t feel a need to reward behavior like this because it is expected.
However, when you encourage and praise this behavior you are teaching them to continue to do it. If only negative reinforcement is enforced, a child may begin to lose sight of what good behavior looks like.
Choose to give your child attention only when they are warranting discipline. To learn a behavior a child needs both positive and negative reinforcement. While discipline that is appropriate for the situation is encouraged, a child should understand that they are not “bad,” but that behavior was just not a good choice.
This message can get lost in translation if a child only receives attention when they have done something wrong. For self-esteem and learning purposes, acknowledge good and bad behavior.
Every day we’re learning more about the impact our interactions have on children. This is so important for raising children who are confident and self-sufficient. The more we know about the impact our actions have on kids, the better equipped we will be to provide a healthy environment!