One of the craziest things you come to learn as you child grows older is that there’s no script for conversations with them. And not only is there no script, but you might even jump to vastly different plays from one moment to the next! (There’s nothing like watching a six-year-old recover from a crying fit over sharing, just to bring up something they learned about math at school.)
But communicating with children is an essential parenting skill, right from the moment they speak their first words. Good communication skills can help us guide our kids through their social and academic world, their own fears and worries, and even the scary situations we’ve had to face. All of that is easier said than done! If you’re not sure how to start, try these communication tips to make things easier.
Open the Door for More Communication
Our kids often want to share their thoughts and feelings with us, but they sometimes need a little encouragement. Try using “door opener” statements to make it clear that you’re interested in more. Phrases like Wow, Tell me more, or That’s amazing can go a long way here.
Beyond this, it can help to simply make yourself available to listen or talk as needed. For communicating with children it’s very important that you make sure your kids know the door is open if they need to ask questions or speak to you.
Listen With Your Whole Body when Communicating with Children
Whether you’re talking or your child is, give them your full attention. Face them, make eye contact, and even sit or kneel to stay on their level if necessary. Even simple reactions like a smile or a head nod can encourage them to share.
Ask Follow-Up Questions
Our youngest kids can have a hard time sticking with a story from beginning to end, and they’ll often veer off on tangents or leave whole sections unsaid. As a parent, one of the best things you can do here is ask gently probing follow-ups: “Who was there? What happened next? Why did that happen?” This shows that you’re interested in the story, and it also helps your kids learn (little by little) to properly explain their stories, problems, and concerns for their listeners.
Use “I” Statements, and Teach Kids to Do the Same
Instead of “you” statements like “Your bedroom is a mess” or “You’re being silly,” try to use statements that highlight how your child’s behavior impacts you. “I need you to clean your room” or “I’m too tired to play games with you” are more direct ways of expressing how you feel, for example, and they’re easy enough for your child to adopt the technique as well.
Validate Their Feelings
We often expect our kids to behave as little adults, or to understand our ways of thinking—but they don’t always have that frame of reference. Instead, try to see things through their eyes. Ask questions to help you determine how they feel, acknowledge those feelings, and show empathy for them. When we validate our children’s emotions, we tell them it’s alright to feel this way—even if the emotion is negative—and we enable them to process that emotion.
Communicating with children is always a two-way process: we listen as much as we talk. From talking points for scary news stories to casual chats over breakfast, every moment is an opportunity to touch base with your kids. Working to set up good communication habits is a great way to cultivate stronger relationships with your kids—and to help them learn those habits from experience. If you’re looking for more of the parenting tips you need to know, check out our other blogs!