November 27, 2017
Communicating Effectively with Your Child
xxxxxxxxCommunicating with our children seems to become more difficult as they get older, but there are some basic communication skills that parents can use with their children that always seem to break down the communication barrier between adults and children.
Communication with children is no easy task as it involves exchanging information while getting the child to cooperate. Our hope is that each time we communicate with our children, they learn from us how to express their feelings in socially acceptable ways and that we build a good parent-child bond while talking.
Principles of good communication
- Statements of understanding come before statements of advice or instruction. “I know you are tired, but you still need to pick up your blocks before bed.”
- All feelings are acceptable. Some words and actions used to discharge feelings are acceptable and some are not.
- Focus on the behavior, not the child. “I don’t like coloring on the wall!” rather than “You are such a bad child, coloring on the walls!”
Sam is visiting Jason. The two 4-year-olds are painting. Jason reaches for the red paint and spills it on Sam’s picture. Sam rips Jason’s picture. Jason hits Sam and yells, “I hate you!” Jason’s mom’s first inclination is to lecture Jason about not hitting. This will likely just produce resentful compliance, so she can do the following:
- Listen – Just listening, sometimes making a sympathetic sound to let a child know he has your attention, can foster closeness while helping the child develop independent problem-solving skills. Jason says, “Sam shouldn’t have torn my picture.” Mom says, “Hmm.” Jason says, “I guess I could’ve told Sam that I didn’t mean to spill the paint. But ripping my paper made me mad!” This level of understanding won’t happen quickly, but with repeated encouragement, children can learn better responses. When just listening doesn’t solve the problem, mom can speak briefly and:
- Reflect the child’s feelings back to him. “You were very angry about the spilled paint on his picture, and you his Sam because you were angry about that. It was ok to feel angry, but the problem was two angry children who tore and hit. It is not ok to do that when you are angry.”
- Give information. “Hitting hurts People.”
- State the rules. “The Rule is no hitting people.”
- Describe values. “Hurting people is wrong.”
- Describe feelings using “I” messages. “I am upset when I see children hurting each other.”
- Teach acceptable ways to express feelings. “You may hit a punching bag, but not Sam. You need to use your words. Tell Sam you didn’t mean to spill the paint, tell him what you really mean. You are angry that he tore your picture. You don’t really hate him.”
- Offer a choice. “You can use your words when you are angry, or if there is more hitting Sam will have to go home for today.”
- Take action that enforces limits and follow through on consequences. “You hit Sam again, so I see you’ve chosen for him to go home now.” It is important for the child to see that what happens is due to HIS action.
- Reinforce acceptable behavior or words. “I see you remembered to use your words when you didn’t like Sam taking your truck!”
- Teach problem-solving techniques. At a later calm time, mom can talk about the problem with Jason, “I think when you are angry it is hard for you to remember to use your words. Let’s think of what you can do to help yourself remember.” They then can brainstorm solutions together (count to 10, take a deep breath, hit a punching bag to have time to remember to use words.) Then Jason can try these the next time he plays with Sam. He and mom can talk later about how the solutions worked or if they need to think of other ways to help Jason remember.
Children need lots of time and practice to learn these skills. It also takes lots of patience for parents to use them. When parents use these skills repeatedly, children learn to understand their feelings, express them in acceptable actions and words, make good choices for themselves and begin to solve some of their own problems. This helps both children and parents to feel good about themselves and about their relationship.