Good communication between you and your child becomes invaluable as your child grows older and needs your support to navigate new challenges. Recent research suggests that when parents start establishing quality two-way communication with their kids during the preschool years, kids develop strong communication skills that lead to future success in careers and relationships.
Parents can be very good at communicating rules or issuing instructions, such as ‘Clean up your toys now please.’ In addition, young children often seem to have an endless number of questions, ideas and requests. If parents are pressed for time and start to feel impatient, they may issue an instruction like ‘Please don’t do that’ before taking the time to fully understand the idea their child is trying to communicate.
However, if your child feels that your communication includes mostly one-way commands or negative ‘do not’ statements, she may think you are frustrated with her and are not interested in what she has to say. Instead, do your best to make your conversations a two-way exchange of information, during which you take the time to listen carefully to ideas or emotions she wants to share with you.
Listening carefully to your child and providing a response that shows you are engaged in the conversation takes some work and your full attention.
- Reduce distractions by putting aside your phone and turning off the TV. Make eye contact to show you are interested, and if you are initiating the conversation, ensure you have her full attention before you begin. Also, if you can tell your child is tired or upset, consider postponing the conversation to a later time when she is rested and her emotions are in check.
- When your child is expressing a thought, let her finish describing her idea or concern before responding, instead of jumping in and providing a solution or critique. When you do respond, avoid lecturing. Instead, open the door to a two-way dialogue by saying something like ‘Wow, please tell me more about it.’ Remember, not every conversation has to be a deep dive into philosophy or a problem-solving session. Sometimes, your child just needs someone to listen.
- Expressing ideas and listening are skills that take practice. Set aside special times of the day, like dinner time, for everyone to share details of their day and practice having two-way conversations with each other. During these sessions, teach your child how to communicate her emotions by helping her correctly label how she is feeling (angry, sad, etc.). Also, observe and learn your child’s body language while having these conversations. Body language is an unspoken communication that can help you interpret her feelings and thoughts.
Keep even difficult conversations positive and easy to understand
Connect more effectively with your child by keeping the tone of conversations positive and expressing your thoughts and easy to understand statements, even when disciplining. Avoid harshly critical statements, like ‘Your room is a mess!’, and don’t forget to praise her for what she has been doing well. Introduce your topics with a simply worded ‘I’ statement, such as ‘I noticed you seem upset and your room was not cleaned up today. Want to talk about what is going on?’ This technique will hopefully encourage your child to join you in a two-way dialogue, where she feels more comfortable sharing her feelings and any ideas she has about resolving the issue.