COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR CHILD
Learning to communicate with your child starts very early. Building good communication with your child when they are young will make it easier to discuss serious topics like alcohol and drugs when they get older.
Infants and toddlers respond to our verbal and nonverbal cues. When we smile at them, or use soothing tones to our voices, we are telling the child that we are there and care about them. Infants begin to communicate with you with coos, crying and gurgling noises. Toddlers begin to communicate using words or simple phrases. They need to learn that we are listening to them and encourage them to talk. This is an important step in their development, learning independence.
When children are toddlers and preschoolers they like to get our attention. As parents you often hear, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, or Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, look at me.” “No” and “Why” are their favorite words. Sometimes it is tempting to ignore the child and continue with what you are doing. However one very important part of building good communication is PAYING ATTENTION to the child when they are talking to you. This is not always easy to do, especially when you have other children to care for along with the myriad of other chores that must be done each day.
Preschoolers do not always understand adult words and often take what we say very literal so it is important to make sure your child understands what you are saying. Preschoolers imitate adult language. They will use words and phrases that they hear you say. So it is important to watch carefully the words you use when talking to them and others.
School age children learn a lot about words. They know that words can hurt you or their peers, words can make people laugh, words can demand attention, and words can communicate their feelings. It is important at this age that you set aside time to talk to your child. Talk about their feelings, concerns, likes and dislikes. Ask specific questions, however don’t appear as if you are being intrusive. You will not always like what your child has to say, but do not react in an angry or demeaning manner. This will discourage the child from talking with you again.
For example: you could say, "I understand you were angry with your friend today, but what do think would have happened if you said this instead……”
This gives you an opportunity to discuss alternative ways your child could have handled a situation. If you have set a pattern by setting aside a time to talk, it is more likely that your child will feel comfortable to communicate with you.
One way to make sure your child understands you care about them a is to establish eye contact with them when they are speaking to you. Right from infancy eye contact tells a child that you care about them. As they get older they need to understand that you care about them but something else needs your attention first.
For example: It is ok to then tell the child, “I want to hear about this, but let me finish putting the clothes in the washer first.”
This tells the child you care, what they have to say and it is important to you, and it is also teaching them that sometimes they have to wait their turn. A gentle pat, hug, wink, or smile will reinforce you really care about what they have to say.
Praise is another way that can build communication skills. No one likes to have a conversation with someone who is making fun of what they say, or demeaning them. Children who are praised for their behavior will repeat that behavior. Praise also encourages the child to share more with you.
Pay attention to your body language when responding to your child.
For example: Putting up your hand to stop the child from speaking, or crossing your arms and sighing when the child speaks can quickly translate to the child that you do not care to hear what they say.
Be aware of the time of day when your child wants to talk. Some children like to spend a few minutes before bed to tell you something important about their day, other children like to talk on their way home in the car from child care. Make sure you take advantage of these ‘chatty’ times to learn about your child. Ask questions. Make them specific.
For example: If you say, “what did you do today?” You will probably get the answer, “I don’t know” or “nothing”. Instead ask specific questions like: Name something that made you laugh today. Did anything make you sad today? Did you play with the blocks? What did you build?
By asking questions and starting the conversation you are building your child’s self worth. Get down to the child’s level when you are talking with them. This will help you to establish the necessary eye contact when talking with your child.
Remember listen and praise often builds good communication skills.