This post offers a few ideas on how to improve communication with children. Toddler and preschooler communication is challenging for any adult. So, I thought I would share tips on improving communication with young children. Did you know that toddlers and preschoolers can solve their own problems? Yes, it is true!
“It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori
With the help and guidance of us grown ups, who often are too quick to offer solutions without giving children the opportunity to come up with a solution on their own, they just might be able to do it. They just might surprise us. The best part is that they can develop important life skills of problem solving and decision making. Not to mention, they will feel capable and independent. Check out my book lists for children for ideas on how to help children develop key social and emotional skills.
This past weekend I attended a wonderful Montessori presentation by a Virginia Varga. She pioneered the development of a Montessori Infant & Toddler curriculum in the 60s. Her experience with children, particularly toddlers, is extensive to say the least. She passed some of her knowledge onto those of us lucky enough to be in her audience. Yesterday she chose to speak about the “Magic Words that Change Toddler Behavior”. In short, she was pretty awesome.
I was fascinated with her. She emphasized that toddlers are in their prime developing a sense of identity and that, by 2 years old, the basic structure of personality is already formed in these little spirits. That is not to say that personality can’t change to some extent but the basic foundation already exists in form. Even at birth, temperament is deeply embedded in who we all are. I loved it when Virginia said, emphasizing Maria Montessori herself, “already at 3, the child is a little man”. I could not help but giggle a bit thinking of my own close to 3 year old and all his personality.
One theme in her presentation was how parents and educators are too quick to problem solve for children, that we are given many opportunities to guide them to make decisions on their own but we choose to offer solutions instead of asking questions. Conflict resolution is a life skill. Helping children understand and process their emotions, and then manage them is a life skill. I am guilty. I am betting I am not alone in this boat.
I got so much out of her talk that I had to share some of the specific communication tactics with you.
How to Improve Communication with Children
- Acknowledge and identify feelings: “I notice that you are mad. Is that because Ben took the truck away from you?” – Let’s the child know that his feelings have been heard by us. Recognizing and responding to needs and wants expressed through feelings changes a child’s behavior.
- Interpret the experience: “It looks like you both want the truck” – Let’s the child know that someone understands him, instead of saying “Your brother wants the truck”, offer an interpretation.
- Report the observation: “You would like the truck but Ben took it from you” – Let’s the child process the situation
- Repeat the “complaint” – “You said the bike is not working”: Along the same lines as the above two, repeating the complaint not only makes the child feel heard, it also gives adult time to think about next steps.
- Ask questions – “How is it broken?” “Why won’t it go?” What would like to happen now?” Asking a question stimulates thinking and reduces stress to the brain allowing for (better) problem solving and decision making. Don’t immediately suggest an option to solve the problem. Allow the child(ren) time to think about how to solve the problem offer solutions and feel capable.
- Wait for the Answer - Don’t ask a question and then let the child run away or you or the child get distracted by something. Ask the question and wait for and expect an answer. If the child runs away, bring him back into the situation by saying, “I asked XYZ, what is your answer?”
- End a Question with a Question – If you ask the child “Would you like to share the truck with Ben?” and he says, “No”, continue by asking, “How do you think that makes Ben feel?” or “When can Ben play with the truck?”
- Model Thinking – We all sometimes talk to ourselves out loud. Modeling thinking is similar. Say something like, “I think Ben & Ethan will probably find a way to solve the problem.”
- Respect children’s wants and needs- Never force a child to share his things. If he is playing with a truck and his brother takes that truck away, instead of requesting that he share the truck, ask him and if he says, “no”, ask him when he might be ready to share his truck. Children can be very generous when given the opportunity to do so.
- Facilitate peaceful decision-making - Keep the problem within the children. Guide them to solve the problem together. Don’t solve it for them.
You can not start too young with this approach. The approach takes practice and repetition. Even the youngest child who may not have the words to respond can take words into his world. He understands.
I will end with a quote from the presentation: “By following and gently leading the child ‘across the bridge’ you can celebrate the joy of the child’s psychological birth. The child is a person “I am” and “I can”. There is so much more to write on this topic so indeed expect more to come…we can help our children be peaceful and bring peace to their minds and hearts.
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