You talk to the kids in your life every day, but have you ever stopped and thought about how your words will impact them later in life? The way children are talked to sets the stage for how they will develop socially and emotionally. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, nurse, or are just regularly involved with children in some other way, knowing how to talk to them is essential.
As you learn to communicate effectively with the child, or children, in your life, you’re creating a safe space for them to express their feelings. The stronger your communication skills are, the closer your bond will be.
Here are my tips for communicating with kids…
1. Toss Out the Distractions
All too often an adult will try to talk to kids while they’re busy doing something else. Kids pick up on this and will begin to feel like they’re not worthy of receiving undivided attention after a while. It’s easy to get caught up in everything you need to take care of, but quality communication takes time and effort.
This is why it’s so important to set aside time to have uninterrupted conversation with the children in your life. Whether it’s five minutes or five hours, having time to truly engage and listen to the child’s interests, opinions, or problems will establish a closer bond. Two minutes per day of uninterrupted communication is more beneficial for a child than one hour of communication where you’re multitasking.
2. Practice Your Active Listening Skills
Once you have put distractions aside it becomes important to show the child that you’re listening. Making eye contact will show the kiddo that you’re hearing what they’re saying, and that your only focus in that moment is them. Asking questions, nodding, and summarizing information are all active listening habits as well.
When you fully engage yourself in a conversation, that kid will know that you’re interested in what they’re saying. This will continue to boost their self-esteem as they grow older. Asking questions about what they’re telling you shows the child that you’re not only interested, but that you would like to know even more about the topic. Summarizing the conversation shows the child that you fully grasp what they were trying to communicate to you.
It means the world to kids when their feelings and thoughts are understood.
3. Talk About the Little Things
When a child approaches you and wants to talk about the picture they colored at school while mentioning every detail that went into it, listen until they’re done. Practice your active listening skills in smaller interactions, whether you’re completely invested in the topic or not. If a kid feels like they’re being rushed to finish a story about their everyday life, they may refrain from talking to you when something serious happens.
Setting a solid foundation for communication begins with simple topics. This will establish a comfortable relationship between you and the child that creates an open line of communication. If they know you are available to talk about fun and exciting situations, then they’re more likely to confide in you if they’re upset about something or need help.
This is an aspect of your relationship that will become really important as they grow older.
4. Pay Close Attention to Your Own Reaction
Adults often feel an instinct to correct children when they misspeak since they have a better understanding of grammar and sentence structure. If you want to keep a comfortable environment for communication, it’s important that you don’t tear the child down by doing this.
If a child uses incorrect grammar, don’t tell them, “that’s wrong, this is the correct way to say that.” The child may feel insecure and as if you’re paying more attention to critiquing them than truly hearing their thoughts.
Instead, repeat back the same sentence using your active listening skills, but just use the proper grammar or structure. They will eventually pick up on this, strengthening their language skills.
Ex: “I hurted my thumb at school yesterday.” Respond with, “it sounds like you hurt your thumb at school yesterday, how did that make you feel?”
We must pay attention to how we react in other situations, like frustrating, or difficult ones as well. If you’re quick to get aggressive or angry about something your child is telling you, then they will assume it’s better to hide controversial situations. This makes the child feel like they need to suppress more serious topics in order to avoid being criticized or yelled at.
This is certainly not a suggestion to let children get away with misbehavior, however, how you communicate about it will affect how they learn from the situation.
5. Practice Problem-Solving Skills
Sometimes parents will enforce a punishment that’s meant to make a child feel bad, but it’s not actually teaching them anything about the situation. Getting angry and just sending the child to a timeout area will not help them learn from their behavior. Communicating with them about the conflict, as well as working through the problem together will help them think more critically.
For example, if your child keeps spilling their juice because they’re misusing their cup, calling them names, yelling, or just sending them away is not helping them learn anything. They need to be taught why this is a problem in order to figure out how to avoid it. Walking through the problem with them rather than just reacting out of anger will help avoid the problem in the future.
Asking them things like why they feel the situation has happened, how that makes others feel, and what they feel the solution should be will promote problem-solving skills. Learning these skills is much more effective than creating a sense of shame or embarrassment around the problem. Having them mentally work through the problem will help them learn the true effect that their actions have on others, and ways to make better choices.
If the child spilled their drink, ask them why they think that happened. They may say “I don’t know,” or they may tell you that they were playing and accidentally knocked the drink over. If they don’t know, then ask them if they think it was spilled because they were playing. Once the problem as well as the cause has been identified, help them understand how it made others feel, and how to avoid it in the future.
For example, “when you play and spill your drink, do you think it might make mommy sad?”
Once they understand the problem and the effect it has on others, try to help them brainstorm solutions. Ask them what they can do instead and offer guidance in finding the solution that works best for everyone.
Ex: “What do you think you can do so that you don’t spill your drink next time?” or, “Maybe you could use your drink for drinking, and play with your toys once you’ve finished your lunch?”
Don’t forget to reassure them that accidents happen and that you still love them, but sometimes we need to be careful, so the accident doesn’t keep happening. Ask them to clean the mess (or help if it’s bad) as their consequence so they will be more careful in the future.
6. Try to See Through Their Eyes
As an adult it can be easy to forget how a child feels. This makes us more likely to lack compassion if a child gets emotional over a seemingly small situation. We forget that when we were children, there were plenty of issues we were also upset over that probably seemed silly to the adults in our lives.
Try to ask your child questions about a situation to better understand their feelings. Get the full story, and then offer advice from a place of empathy and compassion. Whether you understand why the child had a full-on meltdown over dropping their crayon is not important. What is important is showing them that you’re hearing them, and then helping them work through that emotion.
7. Pay Attention to Body Language
Children may not always say exactly what is on their mind, which is why learning to understand their body language is so important. Body language is a huge part of communication, so the more you learn about a child’s body language the better you can communicate with them.
If a child has not verbally voiced their concern to you but their body language sends out red flags that something is bothering them, keep an eye on them. Keep an eye out for body language or change in behavior that looks like…
· A sudden lack of interests in hobbies
· Isolation; avoiding friends and spending more time in their room
· Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
· A sudden increase in irritability or tantrums
If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to begin talking with them about it. You can express your concern by telling them that you noticed their behavior and want to make sure that they’re doing okay.
8. Keep Conversation Age-Appropriate
While it’s important to make sure that you’re talking with the child often, you will want to keep an eye on the way you communicate. Children, especially young children, have very short attention spans and may struggle to focus on long explanations. Children are more talkers than they are listeners.
Children love to talk and tell stories, but if you pay close attention, you may notice that kids have a hard time even focusing on their own stories. The story may begin with their day at the zoo, and end with their favorite type of roller coaster. If a child cannot keep track of the topic that they brought up, they will definitely struggle to follow a long explanation from you.
Because of this, you will want to ask short, simple questions, especially when kids are very young. Try to keep your questions to no more than a few words. This same idea applies to explanations, whether it’s about a question the child asked, or when you’re disciplining them.
As children grow older, you can increase your sentence length, but don’t be surprised if they still lose track sometimes. Although the dialogue should be kept somewhat short when interacting with children, you should continue to talk with them often.
Although communicating with kids can take some practice, your adjustments will make a huge impact. Creating a safe, comfortable space for children to talk will impact their ability to communicate as they grow older. Habits in communication are most effective when introduced at an early age.
Don’t fret, you’ll be a master at communicating with kids in no time!