Communicating Effectively with Children
Developing, fostering and maintaining an open, trusting and committed child-parent relationship is the foundation of effective parenting. This kind of relationship is established through regular honest and respectful communication.
First, consider the mechanisms that parents may employ to establish an open channel of communication between themselves and their children. By combining appropriate language with useful non-verbal messages, parents can establish a process of two-way communication that effectively clears the common misunderstandings between parents and their children.
Furthermore, effective communication forms the basis of effective discipline. Consider a variety of disciplinary strategies and learn the process of implementing effective rewards and consequences.
Learning to communicate with children is the cornerstone of effective parenting. Children have a desire to be heard and understood just as adults do. Active listening is a critical tool for communicating effectively with children. Eye contact, body language, ‘being heard’ gestures and waiting until the other person has stopped talking before saying anything are all useful skills to help you connect with a child in conversation.
‘Being heard’ gestures
‘Being heard’ gestures show that you are paying attention to a child in conversation. Gestures such as nodding from time to time while they are speaking and showing appropriate facial expressions contribute to the child’s perception that you are listening.
In addition, showing a child that you understand by validating and normalising his or her feelings is an important way to convey listening. Imagine that you are speaking with a child (Claire – age 6) about her day at school. Claire received an award for spelling and she is very excitedly describing the moment to you. A parent could easily respond with the any one of the following statements, but only one of these will make the child feel truly heard.
- Smiling, maintaining eye contact and nodding
- Offering your hand in a gesture of congratulatory “high five”
- Sighing and murmuring “Hmmm?”
- Nodding and saying: “Your brother, Peter, is good at spelling too”
Statement B lets the child know that the parent has shared in their excitement and understands the feeling of success.
Six Ways in Which We Can Communicate Better’
Source – Grisdale, M., Carter, J. & Morton-Evans, M. (2005). Why won’t my child listen? Sydney: Simon & Schuster (p. 132).
- First, really listen to what your child is saying without formulating an opinion or making a judgement. Just stay in neutral. Then listen to the emotions behind your child’s talk and respond appropriately without trying to solve or teach anything.
- Recognise your children frequently by stopping to play a little game with them or sitting down to do a drawing. It need only last two minutes and they do appreciate it! This is a powerful tool, guaranteed to cut down on whining and demanding behaviour.
- Take time to tell your children stories. Children love stories, especially true ones about Mummy and Daddy. It is a great way to open the lines of communication. As your children grow older, encourage them to think for themselves by not immediately rushing to solve every problem. Ask them how they might solve it first.
- Always tell children the truth. If you lie to them and they find out, the damage done is far greater than in the same situation with an adult. If you want a child to communicate openly with you, then you must be open with them. Children are brighter than you think!
- Ask them what they are feeling and ask for their opinions. This is how children learn to form opinions and express feelings, and at the same time come to believe that their opinions are worth something.
“Good communication with children is telling them what you want them to do, not what they have done wrong.”
Grisdale, Carter & Morton-Evans (2005) suggest that instructions to children should be stated simply, clearly and positively.
Instead of “Don’t hurt the cat”, The request could be reworded into a positive by saying,
“Please play gently with the cat.”
A practical worksheet to help children talk about feelings
The purpose of this activity is to assist children in identifying and discussing their feeling responses to a variety of experiences. This activity can also be used to assist a child in the process of developing empathy for others. This activity is suitable for ages 4 -8 (approximately).
A copy of this worksheet; colouring pencils or pens
- Step 1: Create a series of faces depicting a variety of feelings. You may like to create a set of cards or a large poster, using clip art images or cuttings from magazines.
- Step 2: Show the feeling cards or poster to the child and begin a discussion about the faces and the feelings depicted in each face.
- Step 3: Ask the child to pretend to be feeling one of the feelings on the cards or poster. Guess which feeling the child is demonstrating.
- Step 4: Pretend to display a feeling from the cards or poster and ask the child to guess which feeling you are demonstrating.
- Step 5: Invite the child to discuss an incident in which they felt like one of the faces. Ask the child not to reveal which feeling they experienced yet.
- Step 6: Guess which of the feelings the child may have been feeling during the incident that they describe.
- Step 7: Reverse roles so that you are describing an incident and the child is guessing the feeling.