Are you a young parent or newly found yourself in charge of a child or worse yet a handful of children (babysitting or tutoring), and you can’t seem to get the younglings to listen to you?
They seem completely unmanageable! Sometimes, it feels as if they are unable to understand what language you are speaking to them.
Learning to communicate properly is a stage that all children have to go through. Some may have an easier time than others understanding what is expected of them, others… not so much.
This article is for the “not so much” cohort of children.
Our top tips for improving the way we talk to kids:
1- Use Your Child’s Name (or nickname)
Just like you turn your head whenever you hear your name, so does your child. It’s music to their ears.
They are no different. By saying their name before asking them to do anything at all, you are grabbing their attention and thus more likely to listen to what you have to say.
It’s important to keep calling their name until you have their attention or eye contact; otherwise, you might be talking to yourself!
2- Positive Language
We often find ourselves using this sort of language around a misbehaving child: “Don’t drop that,” “You are not listening to me,” and “No, you can’t do that.”
If you were a child being told “No” constantly, you’d also feel wronged. Instead, try to say what you would like for your child to do. It may take a little bit of effort initially, but it is worth the effort over time.
It would help if you also worked hard on eliminating toxic languages such as ridicule, name-calling, or shaming. Here are a few examples, “You are not a three year old anymore!” “You are very mean, right now,” and “You are embarrassing me.”
That leads to hurting the self-esteem of the child in the long run. Sometimes, children will cut off communication with those that hurt them in this manner, including family. Do not forget children are simply small individuals.
3- Get Down to their Level
Try to make a connection with your child with the help of eye contact. You can get down to their level or have them sit at the table with you.
This will ingrain good manners in their behaviour. It shows them what to do and how to resolve conflict. This can be useful to them as a life skill.
To give yourself and your child an even “playing” ground, it aids the communication between you two.
4- Keep the Volume Level Down
Only use the volume of your voice in inappropriate situations. If you find yourself in a majority of situations that you have to yell at your child, the child will eventually stop listening at all.
If the higher volume of your voice is kept only for the most critical situations, they will always react and notice, just because it does not happen all the time.
This also applies to yell from another room, and it is bound to fall on deaf ears; eventually, it is just a matter of time.
5- Give Them a Choice!
Sometimes, you need to create room for cooperation instead of subordination. It is far easier for children to understand why they need to do something (and how they benefit from it) rather than the legendary “Because I said so.”
Children might not understand everything and need our guidance, but they are still capable of making choices, and they should be taught to choose.
You can offer them a choice when it comes to which vegetables they will eat that meal “Would you like carrots or tomatoes?” this will get healthy nutrition in their bellies and allow them to stay in control.
Another likely scenario that you could find yourself in; say you have to go to the park, and your child is refusing to get dressed in what you want them to wear or just being fussy overall.
A way to try to remedy the situation would be to grab their attention and say something similar: “When you get dressed, you can go outside and play with your sister.” or “Would you like to wear the red coat or the green coat, would you like to put your boots or your sneakers on?”.
6- Keep your Instructions Simple
Depending on your child’s age, too many directions at once could be overwhelming to them or (worse) they could forget about what you asked them to do.
This is a normal pattern even in adults; this is why so many of us keep post-it notes and planners. There is only so much you can remember at once.
Keep your verbal directions to one to three directions at best; otherwise, you will find yourself nagging and repeating yourself.
7- Do Not Nag Excessively
Instead of nagging or repeating the same unsuccessful techniques, try a reward system.
Sometimes, children just need to be told that you are proud of them for doing X, Y, and Z throughout the week.
Give your children a good reward system that works for them (and for you) that will install in them a routine and good behaviour, such as a chore chart for every day of the week.
8- Be Kind But Be Firm, You Are the Parent!
When you have decided about anything at all, it is important that you stick to it. If you have grounded your child for the day, they must remain grounded until the day is over.
It is also crucial that you, your partner (and anyone else involved in the caretaking of the child) will stay united in the decision. No sweets after 5? No one should give the child sweets after five, and the child will eventually learn not to ask for them to start with as they are aware of the firm rule.
Your child will not enjoy your ruling at the time, but at least they will understand that it is not bargainable. A wishy-washy tone will get you in trouble as your child will always try to break your decision or push your boundaries.
Though, this may reappear in their teens in the form of rebellion to take on an authority figure.
9- Give notice
Just like you give notice to your employer before requesting time off or arriving late, so should you be giving notice to your child.
If you are about to leave for grocery shopping and your child is coming with you, you should give them notice: “Daniella, put away your toys, we are leaving soon.” or “James, we will be going to the grocery store to buy food.
Grab your coat and put on your shoes.” This should be enough to grab their attention, give them direction, and notice all at once.
10- Do not Speak Over your Child
Do not interrupt or scold your child while they are talking to you one-on-one. They are having a moment of trust with you and sharing something that to them, at that moment, is important.
If you were to be interrupted, you would have only three ways to react: raise your voice, say that you are being interrupted (and hope that the other party apologizes) or go quiet. Kids react in similar ways. They often lose interest in sharing their feelings with you (or other adults) if you talk over them or, worse, scold them for sharing.
It is important to teach lessons, but they have to be at appropriate times. Sometimes, a lesson during a conversation can wait three minutes.
11- Help Your Child Deal with their Feelings
As parents, we can tell when our children are having a bad day (and they can tell when we have one, too). By helping and teaching your child to deal with their feelings, you are teaching them a useful life skill and are engaging in open communication with them.
This establishes trust. You can ask open-ended questions such as “How does that make you feel?” “Why are you upset right now?” “Do you want to talk about it now or later?” to get your child to be more prone to want to talk to you (and keep doing it).
When your child does open up about their feelings (as silly as they may be to us sometimes), it’s crucial that you listen to them as you would to an adult (as mentioned in the previous point) and offer to do an activity to get their mind off it afterward, such as colouring, cuddling, or dancing.
12- Focus on What your Child Can Do
Sometimes, parents get ahead of themselves. They want to believe that their children are fully capable of doing a plethora of things, but sometimes that is just wishful thinking.
It’s important to set age-appropriate tasks, activities, and reasoning for your child. If you know that they are capable of one thing and what you are asking them is a big leap, you might have to sit down and teach them how to do said thing; otherwise, you’ll always get a puzzled look from your child before they ask for help themselves.
Last but not least
Your children are small but incredibly complex individuals. The only difference between them and you is age experience.
Please treat them with respect and kindness, and your child will reciprocate your good manners and behaviour back to you. You are their first role model, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.