April 19, 2024
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How to Communicate With Children and Others

A 10-Point Guide to Communicating with Children

1. Speak to a Child with Respect: One of the most common complaints adults have about children is that they are disrespectful. If children are spoken to in a respectful manner, that is what they learn and reflect. If, on the other hand, they are given orders (in other words, not using (please( or (thank you(), told they are stupid, or to (shut-up,” then that is how they will speak to their peers and to the adults in their lives.

2. Be a Good Role Model: Children think their parents and teachers know everything and imitate them. If you don(t want something said or done, DON(T SAY OR DO IT! If you tell them not to lie and you lie–well… If you tell them hitting is wrong and then you hit them–well… Be careful with what you say and do and then live up to your words.

3. Always Honor Their Feelings: Our feelings are our truest reflections of ourselves. Many people are unaware of how they feel because their feelings were not recognized or honored when they were children. This is a great loss. Young children don(t have the words to express what they feel so they do it in actions (hence the phrase, “he is acting out.” What he or she is acting out are his or her feelings). When a child says, “I(m hungry” and is told he can’t be hungry because he just ate an hour ago, he learns to mistrust his own feelings and instincts. If a child is crying and is told (you have nothing to cry about, get over it,” she feels negated and unimportant.

4. Communicate Your Own Feelings: When an adult expresses joy or anger, pride or hurt, they legitimize that having feelings and expressing them is okay. They also help children develop empathy. Additionally, it leads children to recognize that their actions and words have an impact on another person. Finally, it is also beneficial to the adult who can then express his/her feelings in words instead of actions, diminishing the possibility of screaming, hitting, and other inappropriate responses.

5. Be Specific When Giving Instructions and Stating What You Want. Sometimes children are overwhelmed by too much information. You may have to give directions one step at a time. As adults, we usually understand what is said to us in “shorthand.” Clean up means look around and put everything in its place. CHILDREN HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS! They need to know exactly what you want. The younger the child, the clearer the message needs to be. Maybe for a 5-year-old, one could say, “Put your toys away.” A 3-year-old might need to hear, “Put your blocks in the carton and your trucks on the shelf.” Children cannot do what you want them to do if they don(t understand what it is that you want. Too many instructions at one time leads to confusion and forgetting–and then frustration and disappointment for both child and adult.

6. Speak to Children in the Positive–Avoid the Negative When you tell someone what not to do, you are not conveying what it is you do want them to do. For instance, there is a great difference in saying, “don(t grab” or “ask for the toy nicely.” The same holds true for “don(t run” or “walk carefully.” The negative statement leaves a void, the positive statement sets up a preferred mode of behavior.

7. Be Consistent With What You Want and What You Expect Children are just learning the “rules of life.” Sometimes they(re hard to grasp and there are so many things to learn! If what you request remains the same each time, there is a structure set up and an understanding of what is (right( or (wrong.” Additionally, if the rules change from day to day, the child ends up feeling that whatever s/he does is unsatisfactory, which leads to a feeling of hopelessness, and the child will give up trying.

8. Notice the “Good” Things and Respond to Them, Even For Tiny Steps… Ignore The Behaviors You(d Like To Disappear Children want attention; that is their main reward. They will repeat doing whatever it is that gets them that attention. You want them to be rewarded for the behaviors you would like to see. So, anytime they do or say anything that you would like them to repeat–doing a kindness, saying “thank you,” putting away a toy–comment on it, give a kiss or a hug or a pat on the head. At the same time, if something is done that’s disapproved of, if possible, ignore it, or turn your head away. Deprive the child of attention for negative behaviors.

9. Think About Why You Say No. If You Don’t Have A Solid Reason For Doing So, Say “Yes.” Adults often say no to a request without giving it much thought or understanding why. Often it’s because the adults in their lives, when they were children, would have said “no.” Many times adults do need to say “no”; it’s just a fact of life. However, it is said much more often than necessary. If it is a situation in which “yes” would be fine, say “yes.” It lands softly on the person who hears it and feels good to the person who says it. In short, it is a win-win word.

10. Avoid Asking Unanswerable Questions What’s an unanswerable question? “Who told you to do that?” “Who do you think you are?” “Why would anybody do anything so stupid?” When anyone is asked such a question, they feel attacked and vulnerable and helpless–especially when a child is asked such questions by an adult. If you, as a parent or teacher, are upset or irritated by something a child has said or done, it is much more helpful and less injurious to say something like, “When you say (do) ___, I feel frustrated (angry, hurt, upset, etc.). I’d prefer you do or say___.” In that way, a child(s sense of self remains intact and an important lesson can be taught.

Nancy Silverman Zweibach can be contacted via http://www.thepsychspeaks.com

By Nancy Silberman Zwiebach

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