Adults and children live in different worlds. No matter how present we are in our children’s lives, and how much time we spend with them, we think and feel like adults; they think and feel like kids. We have different priorities and perspectives.
Our kids learn and grow from hearing our perspectives. Sometimes we forget how much we too can learn and grow by hearing their perspectives as well and remembering, for at least a few moments, how beautiful and simple the world of a child is.
Effective communication with our kids doesn’t only bring about new understanding; it also helps avoid misunderstandings. If I stop and think about all of the “difficult” moments with my two and three year olds from the past week, at least 90% of them escalated due to poor communication. I don’t think that’s unique to my household.
One of the main frustrations of childhood (particularly toddlerhood and early childhood years) is the inability to communicate, or at least, to communicate effectively. Sure, by the time they’re three, our kids can express what they want, but it’s still tough for them to express what they feel, and if they don’t begin learning how to express both their thoughts and emotions from a young age, it’s going to be hard for them to start doing it later, after they’ve been bottling their emotions up for a few years or more.
Communication is a two way street. To truly feel secure in their relationship with us, our kids not only need to learn how to express themselves, but also how to truly hear and understand what we are trying to tell them.
Here are a few ways we can improve communication with our kids:
- Don’t get involved in power struggles. When our children challenge us and deliberately try to draw us into conflict, their behavior is usually masking lack of communication. Something is upsetting them and they don’t know what to do about it, so instead of addressing the real issue, they create a fake one. In these cases, we’re never really going to help our child or get to the bottom of things without making efforts to open channels of communication and help our children learn to express what’s bothering them. Are power struggles a big issue in your house? Here are 15 strategies to help prevent or diffuse them so you can focus on building your relationship with your child through effective communication and other positive experiences.
- Teach our kids that sharing is normal from a young age. In the beginning, provide structured prompts that help them learn how to express important feelings and ideas. Bedtime is an ideal time for having such a conversation. Your children have experienced a lot during the day, and are looking to connect to you as they wind down before going to sleep. If you don’t already have a bedtime routine that includes helping your child talk through their day, consider using these three questions each night.
- Remember that negative communication is still a form of communication. You know those times when your child talks back? Our gut response is often to squash this behavior because it’s disrespectful. But even if they’re being disrespectful, our children are trying to communicate with us, and that shouldn’t be lost on us. Even while admonishing them for the way they expressed themselves, and setting clear standards about acceptable behavior, we should make sure they know that we hear them, understand they feel upset, and are willing to listen to them, as long as they express themselves appropriately. If your child talks back a lot read more about possible causes and 10 parenting strategies you can try.
- Finally, remember that whether or not communication happens effectively is largely up to us. We often, unintentionally, signal our child that communication isn’t important or worthwhile by barely listening to them, being distracted, or almost always multi-tasking and focusing on two or three other things while they’re talking to us. Yet we turn around and expect them to leave all distractions aside and pay full attention to us. Do you feel like your communication with your child is suffering due to distraction on one or both sides, and a general lack of connection? Here are 14 little things you can do to reestablish that connection and strengthen the bond of trust between you and your child, thereby making it easier to communicate effectively.