Parents talk to their kids a lot. In a single day, they can issue a multitude of instructions, orders and requests as they converse with their children. Rarely do they stop to wonder if their kids understand what they are saying.
What most parents fail to realize is that their kids are constantly looking to them for cues on how to act and behave. The way you speak to your children shows how you want them to speak back to you and it greatly determines whether they’ll listen and respond to what you say.
Additionally, research shows that conversations among adults and children not only enhance the latter’s vocabulary 1 but also provide a rich context for their social and emotional development.
Talking with children, therefore, matters and parents should strive to become better communicators.
Here’s what parenting experts recommend for improving the way you talk with your kids:
1. Pick an opportune time to talk.
Talking with your kids is so much easier if you pick a time when both of you can really listen to what the other has to say. Trying to talk to your child when they’re in the throes of a tantrum or when they’re upset is just a waste of time. Likewise, talking with all your children at the same time might not be too helpful as older siblings might talk over younger ones. The solution is to schedule some one-on-one time with each of your children every week so you can really talk at their individual levels.
2. Pay complete attention to what your kids say.
Ever tried talking to someone who was watching TV or playing games on their phone? Frustrating, isn’t it? That’s how your child feels if they have to compete for your attention. Learn to stop what you’re doing and listen to your kids when they come to you with their thoughts, fears and concerns.
If you really can’t talk at that time, don’t pretend to listen. It’s far better to promise them a time when they can have your undivided attention and follow through. Your kids will open up when they see you’re genuinely interested in their lives. So put your phone away and pay attention.
3. Acknowledge their feelings.
As you talk with your kids, allow them to express their feelings and opinions even if they’re difficult to hear. Asking them to suppress their emotions or, even worse, negating them can have an adverse effect on their emotional development. You don’t have to say much, simply being there, soothing them and providing a safe space for them to let out their negative feelings may be all that’s needed. If your response is called for, take care not to be judgmental, critical or condescending. No matter how trivial your child’s issues might seem, they’re very real to them and they should be addressed.
4. Tackle tough topics head-on.
Have conversations with your children about bullying, racism and other difficult topics. You might think they’re too young to understand you but kids these days are more exposed than parents realize. A good approach is to ask them what they know about these issues then taking it up from there, clearing misunderstandings and giving more information as you go. As they grow older, introduce more subjects such as suicide, substance abuse and depression. Though uncomfortable, these conversations may save your kids’ lives someday.
5. Keep the conversation age-appropriate.
As you broach difficult topics with your children, ensure you tailor the conversation to their age. There’s no reason to give a lot of information about things like death to children as it might alarm them. Keep your answers short, simple and concise if you are talking to young children since lengthy, long-winded explanations might be confusing and boring. Older siblings, on the other hand, require more in-depth conversations where they can learn and ask questions so feel free to give them more information.
6. Temper your response.
Do you like talking to someone who’s angry and yelling at you? Neither do your kids. Children are likely to tune you out and withdraw if you appear defensive or angry, so learn to soften your responses. Similarly, quell the urge to argue about who is right and instead state your position on any issue in a firm, calm manner. This gives the impression that you are in control and your kids are likely to listen to you. Also get into the habit of recognizing your children’s efforts and use positive reinforcement if you want them to improve.
Learning how to effectively communicate with our children is one of the most important things we can do as parents as it is the key to fostering a healthy relationship with them.
- Weisleder, A., & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary. Psychological Science. Retrieved on November 13, 2017, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797613488145