10 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Child

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! 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.

communication preschoolers 10 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Child

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.

toddler communication 10 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Child“Yes, I am a kind, strong, capable person. I can solve problems for myself.”

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.

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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.

So, I got so much out of her talk that I had to share some of the specific communication tactics with you:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Report the observation: “You would like the truck but Ben took it from you” – Let’s the child process the situation
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?”
  7. 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?”
  8. 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.”
  9. 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.
  10. Facilitate peaceful decision-making - Keep the problem within the children. Guide them to solve the problem together. Don’t solve it for them.

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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.

Thanks for visiting…come back soon. Oh and leave a comment! I love hearing from you!

Marnie

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Comments

  1. How lucky you are to have attended that presentation! This list is fantastic! Sharing is a very tricky thing for all parents to figure out. We seem to expect children to share much more than we actually do as adults. Not that sharing is a bad thing, but the balance seems off doesn’t it?
    Kim recently posted…Great Storytelling Is A PerformanceMy Profile

  2. Wow, what a great article! Thank you so much for the reminder to ask questions instead of always offering solutions. I needed that! My 19 mo. old daughter is brimming with ideas, I just have to remember to ask her what they are!
    Shelly recently posted…Why Family Rituals Create Confident KidsMy Profile

  3. So true!! As parents we tend to think that we need to find solutions for everything and we need to always be there sorting out different situations… if we can sometimes step back and only be a guiding hand, we better shape our children’s ability to come up with their own solutions!

  4. Thank you for sharing! As a child, I recall my mom (who always had her hands full with 3 boys, then myself) often incorporating these into her day with us! And the most important part is in the very beginning: acknowledge that the child is an individual with wants and needs and thoughts. I look at my 3 year old son and truly love watching his personality unfold before my eyes. The best parts of my day are when I stop doing something “important” to help him work through a problem and am reminded of what is truly important. Thank you again for sharing this! It holds a valuable lesson about our relationships with other people. <3

  5. Sounds a lot like “Love and Logic” principles. Very true words here, just have to keep reminding myself to use them.

  6. That sounds like a wonderful presentation … awesome suggestions! Thanks so much for linking up with Montessori Monday. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Toddlers – Activities and Ideas Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/toddlers-activities-and-ideas/.

  7. These are great tips! Thanks for the post.
    eryn recently posted…Primal dark chocolate raspberry cakeMy Profile

  8. Thank you for putting these into such concise points. I’ve posted them on my wall so that I can remember them. I am hoping to encorporate these ideas into my dayhome. Any suggestions on helping kids get along in terms of getting in eachothers play space and keeping hands to themselves? I’m constantly struggling with my 3yo being kind to the 1yo and 20mo babies.

    • Amy! Thank you for your kind words! Off the top of my head, a few suggestions I’d try to incorporate into your environment are ‘work mats’ or even just lines with tape. Let me think about more and give you addition ideas! You’ll have to let me know how it goes! So tough at this age, especially with little boys, because they are still developing self control (and will be for years to come!). I’m in the process of writing up two posts in which you’ll be interested. One is movement and the brain and the other has to do with self control. I’m hoping to provide tangible ideas to you. Xo

  9. Great list! Helping children to become problem solvers is so important. I’ve found these strategies work with older children as well.
    Trisha recently posted…Dump Truck Counting GameMy Profile

  10. These are great helpful tips! Thanks, Marnie!
    Bethany recently posted…Encouraging Your Child’s Imagination {while you clean the kitchen}My Profile

  11. What a fantastic post Marnie…reminded me of some of the information i had previously studied but filed away and forgotten! How lucky to attend such a presentation and thank you so much for sharing it with us.
    Really need to start incorporating some of this with my twins…they are at different developmental stages really so i think it will prove helpful to reflect on your post. Thanks again!

  12. What a fantastic post Marnie. Too often we don’t give our children enough time to just figure something out. We rush them. Interrupt their thought process. We suggest and lead, instead of guide and assist. This was a truly wonderful read. Thanks for linking up with the Weekly Kid’s Co-op.

  13. Great post! I’m building a pinterest board for Montessori toddler ideas for me to start learning now that my son is 1. got to try to stay one step ahead ;-) thanks for these ideas!
    Anna recently posted…“J”My Profile

    • Thanks Anna! I am happy that you enjoyed the Montessori inspired post! There are lots more where that came from! :-) There are some amazing Montessori Pinterest Boards out there. Let me know if you need a hand getting to them. I just started a Montessori Homeschooling Board. Really excited to build it! My children are almost 3 and 15 months. Good to know you and I really look forward to connecting with you!

  14. We had a great toddler problem solving experience recently. We were at a great beach side eatery that had a huge sandbox with picnic tables all around. So, parents eat the tables and kids play in the sandbox. I look up to see my toddler following around an 8 year-old with a bucket and shovel. I realize he wants the dump truck the older child has and is trying to make a trade!! (With a baby at home, this is what we often encourage when he wants to play with something the baby has – is seeing if the baby will trade him). It was too funny b/c the 8 year old clearly was clueless!
    Jen Fischer recently posted…Simple Sunday: Nature ArrangementMy Profile

  15. loved this post. I have shared it on my FB page. It really reminds me of the book “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” which has come to my rescue on mor ethan one occasion when dealing with Goblin. I’m going to pin this to my positive parenting pinterest board too
    The Monko recently posted…The Very Quiet CricketMy Profile

  16. I disagree with the logic of not making children share. We should enstill empathy and humbleness in our children, especially in our little boys.
    I believe in saying “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry too.”

    • Hi Amy! Thanks for your comment! Don’t get me wrong, sharing still happens in our home. We just try to position it as ‘when J is done with the truck, you can have a turn.’ Sharing is so, so important as are the good manners you pointed out. In Montessori philosophy, the ‘sensitive period’ for manner (grace and courtesy) begins around 3 years old so with a 3 year old, we are all about good manners! Thanks so much again for your comment! Warmly, Marnie

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    Kristin recently posted…KristinMy Profile

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