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Communicating with Your Child

Learning to communicate well with your child has many benefits. It can help your child:

  • Learn how to say what she thinks and feels
  • Feel good about herself
  • Get along with other people

Here are some ideas for how to communicate with your child:

  • Talk a lot to your child. Children learn words and the rules for using them by listening to others talk. Therefore, what you say and how you say it is important. Talking is a natural part of many daily routines such as mealtime, bath time, and dressing. Encourage your child to ask for items, make choices, and answer questions. Teach your child to use words instead of crying, grunting, or pointing to get what she wants.
  • Listen to your child. Let your child talk about what is important to her. Encourage her to tell stories and share information. Give your child your undivided attention. Turn off the TV and put the cell phone away. Look her in the eye on her level and don’t do other things while you listen. Nonjudgmental remarks like, "You look upset" or "You sound unhappy," let your child know that you are willing to listen. Do not criticise or shut down your child when she is upset. If your child knows that you will listen, your child will be more likely to talk to you about important things as she grows up.

    Accepting your child's feelings does not mean accepting all behaviors. Help your child understand that feelings are not bad but that some behaviors are not OK. For example, tell your child that it is OK to feel angry at a brother or sister but not OK to hurt him or her.

  • Pay attention to body language. Gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions are as important as words. A smile or a frown, speaking in a loud, scolding voice, or rolling your eyes communicates as much as words. A hug may be all that a crying toddler needs from you.
  • Sing or play music with your child. Music can help children who may not be able to put thoughts and feelings into words. Singing songs can help your child learn new words, memory skills, listening skills, and imitation. Art, dance, and pretending to be a pirate or a princess are other ways to help your child express her thoughts and feelings. Reading to your child also helps teach new words and ideas.
  • Offer limited choices. Your child learns to make good decisions with practice. Start teaching your child early by asking questions such as, "Do you want to wear your red shirt or your green shirt today?"
  • Let your child make some mistakes. Your child may stop talking to you if you always point out mistakes in the way she talks. Instead, gently let your child hear the correct way to say it. For example, if your child says, "I just seed a big truck across the street," respond, "You just saw a big truck? I just saw one, too."
  • Respond carefully to misbehavior. When your child misbehaves, be specific about what she did and tell her what you want her to do. Don’t blame or accuse your child. For example, "I have a headache. Please play quietly or play in the backyard.” is better than saying, "Why do you always make so much noise? Can't you see I have a headache!"
  • Praise your child when she is being good. This generally has better results than communicating most often when your child misbehaves.
  • Plan family trips and outings. Talk about the new experiences. Ask open-ended questions that your child can answer with more than one word. For example, "What was your favorite animal at the zoo? What did you like about that one?"

When you listen and respond to your child's thoughts and feelings, it builds your child’s self-esteem. It also sets the stage for good communication between you and your teen later on.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-30
Last reviewed: 2014-06-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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