How To Effectively Communicate With Your Child

There’s a famous parenting book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, titled “ How to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk”. Ironically, it’s a long title for a book about communicating with kids, considering we’ve always been instructed to” keep it short” when talking to kids. However, the title summarises what effective communication with children should be; that they listen when we talk and we as parents, listen, so they talk to us. It sounds ideal, definitely necessary but in reality, as parents, we might struggle to understand the key to effectively communicating with our children. It might require a bit of practice and re-learning but it isn’t impossible. 

Why it is important

Effective communication with your child is crucial from the early stages of their development to help build your relationship that can make babies thrive in their environment. When you communicate with your child effectively through listening and talking empathetically, you help them feel loved, cared for and important, all of which are important to building attachment, a feeling of security and better self-esteem. And like most behaviours and skills, your child will learn to communicate with others by watching and learning from the way you communicate with them. 

What does effective communication look like?

  • Talking to your child with respect and empathy
  • Giving your child your complete attention
  • Responding to your child when they speak to you
  • Allowing and encouraging your child to express their feelings and thoughts
  • Talking to your child in words and way they are capable of understanding
  • Focusing on your body language and tone while speaking to your child
  • Acknowledging your child’s body language while paying attention to their words to fully understand what they are saying.

Here are some tips to help you effectively communicate with your child:

Set aside time

Make it a part of your routine to sit down and talk to your child, distraction-free. Mealtimes are great for families to sit down and talk to each other. Turn off televisions, set aside phones and encourage your children to talk about their day. Keep mealtimes jovial and cheerful, so your children look forward to joining you at the table. Involve them in your conversations. “Did you see that? What did you think of it? And respond with interest when they speak to you. “Oh, tell me more about it. How did that go? Really? I’m so glad you told me that.”

 Give them your complete attention

As parents, we become adept at multitasking, just as much as our children become adept at reading our cues. So while we might think, we are “listening” to them as we are adding that grocery list on our phones or working on our laptops, our children can tell that they don’t have our complete attention. Setting your phone aside, turning towards them and keeping eye contact is important. For times, it isn’t possible, respond to them with eager anticipation. “ I can’t wait to hear about your dress-up day at school. I’ll be with you as soon as I’m done with this email” and keep your word. This will let your child know you enjoy listening to them.

Acknowledge their feelings

Children can’t help the way they feel about something or someone, just like us adults. Allow your child to express their feelings, making them feel welcome to express all feelings, be it anger, sadness, jealousy, excitement. Acknowledge their feelings, without dismissing them as being “silly” or “not nice”. Often, we feel disappointed when our children show certain feelings because we consider those feelings as bad. If something triggers your feelings and reactions, hold off until you feel calm and composed to discuss the situation. At times  your child is unable to recognise and label their feelings, prompt them, so they understand it better. “You are trying so hard to fix that puzzle and don’t know where that piece goes, you feel frustrated, don’t you?.  

Use whole-body communication

Our children may not always be able to tell us what they are feeling or might hesitate to share something. Pay attention to their body language and demeanour and this can help you sense when something is amiss. “ Hey, you’ve been very quiet all evening, all okay?”. At the same time, pay attention to your own tone of voice and body language when you talk to your children. A warm smile, open arms, a gentle tone can help your children feel secure and safe. 

Follow active listening

Maintaining eye contact, physically getting down to your child’s level, turning towards them while speaking and listening to them are all expressions of active listening. Don’t interrupt them while they’re speaking or finish off their sentences for them. Children sometimes take a while to complete a sentence as they scramble for words to express what they have in mind. When they come to you with a problem, hold back from offering solutions. Encourage your child instead to think about what they can do. ”Hmm, this sounds tricky. You have one fire engine toy and your brother wants to play with it too? How do we solve this?

Model good communication skills

Children are always learning from watching us. So allow them to finish speaking, before you respond. Speak in a language and vocabulary your child understands, keep instructions and requests short and simple, keeping an empathetic tone at all times. Your child is more likely to listen to you when you say something good about them than if y you directly venture into the negative. Try“ I love it when you help out with setting the table, can you take these plates out? instead of “ Do I really need to remind you to get the table ready for dinner everyday?

We want our children to know that they are loved, accepted, valued and important. This makes them grow into confident and caring individuals. And the best way to let them know is not just through our actions but also through our words, especially terms and phrases they constantly hear from us. Building on strong communication when they are little can help strengthen the bond you share, making it easier for your child to come to you when they face bigger issues when they are older. Let’s give our children undivided attention for a few minutes a day and spend time nurturing the way we speak and listen to them and the rewards will be plenty. 

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