Children are learning and growing every day, but they are not always able to communicate exactly what they want and need. As caretakers, it is our responsibility to learn how to use positive communication to really tune into what a child is trying to tell us throughout the different stages of life.
From birth to 12-months, communication is mainly through gurgles, coos, cries, and body movement. Those evolve into grunts, gestures, two-to-three-word sentences, positive and negative facial expressions, and body language up until about 36-months. Between the ages of three and five, children learn how to speak in complete sentences and tell stories. No matter what stage a child is in, it’s important to always communicate in a way that relates to and benefits the child.
Here are some tips for communicating with children throughout each stage.
- Use all of your senses
Give your full attention to a child that is trying to communicate with you. Listening with your ears is important, but children aren’t always able to verbalize what they want and need. Face them, make eye contact, get down to their level, look at the way they are using body language. These actions will let the child know that you are really listening and help you better grasp what they are trying to communicate
- Assign a reason to emotions
Emotion is a big part of communication for children. Take notice when you see that your child is using their emotions to communicate and help them get to the root of their feelings. This helps to validate a child’s feelings, so they know you take them seriously and gets you closer to figuring out what they need. It can also be helpful to the child by giving them a chance to work through their emotions, as they might not understand exactly why they’re upset right away.
An easy way to understand and validate a child’s emotions is to try to get them to offer a reason for their emotion: “Are you upset because I said we couldn’t have pizza for dinner?” A question like this encourages a conversation and gives you a chance to work toward an understanding. This can also be done with infants: “Are you crying because you want your bottle?” If they stop crying, you know the answer is yes. Otherwise, it’s time for trial and error. The verbal communication will help condition babies to eventually say what they need, instead of defaulting to emotion.
- Ask questions before correcting
Instead of telling a child that they’re incorrect about something, give them a chance to explain themselves. Ask a few questions to learn more about why they think the way they do. This will help the child feel genuinely listened to and let them know that you care about the way they feel about things. Once they have explained themselves, you can have a dialogue about why they are incorrect and turn a misunderstanding into a valuable lesson – perhaps for both of you!
- Focus on solutions; not shame
Even the smallest mistakes can feel huge to children sometimes. For example, a child that accidentally breaks a glass might be upset for many reasons: the glass made a loud sound that scared them, they know they broke something that can’t be fixed, they think they are going to get in trouble, etc. Instead of getting angry and accusing the child of not paying attention to their surroundings, show them the steps to make it right. Get them to a safe area away from the glass, carefully sweep it up, and dispose of it properly.
Then, ask your child to, “please ask someone for help the next time you need something off the counter.” This teaches them that they are capable of learning and adjusting to avoid mistakes in the future, while shame might make them feel resigned to incompetency.
- Ask for your child’s opinion when coming up with solutions
If you and your child are trying to come to an agreement, ask them what they think the best course of action is before deciding for them. This allows children a chance to practice critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It also allows you the opportunity to understand what your child might need in order to feel comfortable and happy. If they can come up with a good solution, give it a try. Otherwise, try to come to a compromise. These types of conversations get children thinking about healthy conflict resolution early on.
- Give options, but not too many
Allowing children to make their own choices helps them practice decision-making skills from an early age. However, too many options could confuse and overwhelm a child – not to mention, it could throw a wrench in your day if they can’t make a decision or agree with you on one. Find a happy medium by giving your child two or three options and asking which one they would prefer. This also allows your child to practice a little bit of independence and communicates that they are capable of making the right decisions.
CHILDCARE THAT ENCOURAGES HEALTHY COMMUNICATION
Here at Meaningful Beginnings, our staff understands the importance of practicing healthy communication habits with developing children. When your child is here, they will be spoken to in an age-appropriate and respectful manner that is geared toward problem-solving, conflict-resolution, and proper language use. Children have the opportunity to learn how to communicate effectively with adults and children of all ages! Learn more about our curriculum to see how Meaningful Beginnings can help set your child up for a successful future.