Do you feel like your children never listen to you? Do you make requests that are ignored? You are not alone! Talking with children requires patience. We work hard to communicate effectively with the children in our care and have some tips to help you master the art of talking with young children.
- Touch base before you speak. Get down to their level and say their name. Try to make eye contact. Some children are not comfortable with eye contact, if your child is like that, just ask for assurance that they are listening.
- Watch volume, speak simply and quietly. The more you explain, the less your child will listen. Children at this age can follow only one or two commands at a time, as they get older, closer to five they can usually follow three commands at a time. Be clear and concise. “If you get dressed, then we can go play outside.”
- Don’t nag! If they are not getting dressed you can say “Mary, please get dressed, we cannot go outside until you do.” One of my favorite things to say is “When you are ready.” Or its variation “You are not showing me you want to _______.” If we start nagging them to put on socks, or get your shirt on, the child will tune out and not comply. They can start nagging too. They know if they bother you enough you will give in. This is a topic for another day!
- Although it seems that they understand complicated explanations, they developmentally cannot retain that much information. Let that sink in. If you are going on and on, they may agree, but it is their way to end the conversation.
- Try to use I/you messages. “When you _________, I feel________. “When you throw toys, I feel worried it might break or hurt someone. I cannot let you throw toys”.
- Be a good role model. If your child is talking to you, stop everything and listen. Don’t multi task because they will learn that it is ok not to give full attention. This is important because as they get older, you WANT your child to talk to you and tell you what is going on. If you are busy and need a minute, it is ok to say “please wait one minute while I finish this then you can tell me all about it!”
- Be a good listener. Listening is the more important aspect of conversation. If you aren’t really listening, they will not want to talk.
- If you have trouble getting your child to give you details, ask open ended questions. “What was in the sensory table today?”” What did you have for snack?” “Who did you play with today?” If you ask a yes or no question, you will get a yes or no answer.
- Give your child notice. If you need to leave in 15 minutes, “In five minutes we need to start getting ready to leave.” They can’t tell time and have little understanding of it, but giving them a heads up will help them wrap up what they are doing. “I need you to put your cars away in one more minute.” If you get push back, remind them they will be there when you get home.
- Watch your usage of the word “OK” If you say, “We are leaving in 5 minutes, OK?” You are asking permission to go! You want to make statements, not ask a question. Try to choose your words carefully.
Try doing this for a few days; you may need time to break some bad habits, (yours and your child’s) like not listening, interrupting and over explaining. But don’t give up! Better communication will make for a happier family life.