Helping Your Child Communicate: It seems there are two types of kids when it comes to communication. There are the ones who verbally express themselves with ease and at times tell their parents more than they want to know. And then there are the kids who clam up, won’t talk and would rather hole-up in their room.
What can you do if your child won’t talk to you?
The foundation of parent child communication begins with teaching your child to communicate with you early in their life.
Children aren’t born as effective communicators. For example, a crying child may be communicating many ambiguous messages and the parent knows that crying is a generalized response but is still left to guess precisely why the child is crying.
Children must be taught to identify their feelings and to communicate those feelings to parents, teachers, etc. As the child learns language, they are acquiring the tools to more precisely communicate their feelings but they still may not be able to verbally reflect their feelings accurately.
Helping Your Child Communicate: Therefore, it often helps for the parent to offer verbal multiple choice examples in order to help the child understand their own feelings. For example, a parent might say to a crying 5 year-old, “When I cry it is sometimes because I am hungry, hurt or mad. Are any of these reasons why you are crying or do you think it is something else?”
If the child has no answer the parent may add other reasons they sometimes cry to help the child build a repertoire of answers they can choose from in the future. Hopefully, at the next crying episode the parent can ask the child why they are crying and the child may respond with a more specific answer, which sets the stage for the next step which is resolving the issue that caused the crying.
Some parents make the mistake of interrupting and talking over their child or filling in the gaps of a lagging conversation as the child struggles to find the words they want to say. It is important to give your child enough time to respond and not fill in the empty space with your own words.
It may help you to count silently in your head so you don’t rush your child by speaking for them. It also helps to tell your child to take their time answering because what they say is important. If they do not give an answer or say “I don’t know” be patient and tell them you are willing to wait until their thought is complete. Then, reward them when they respond by saying something like, “I can tell you really thought about that answer and I am glad you took your time.”
Another opportunity for helping your child to communicate may be found in playing board games or cards with your child. Modify the rules to allow for sharing. Such as, when a particular card is drawn or a spot on the board is landed on, each person shares a feeling or worry they have. On the next person’s turn they are allowed to ask one question about the feeling or worry that was expressed by the person. Be open and honest yourself when it’s your turn.
For example, a six year old girl stated on her turn the feeling she was thinking about was “fast”. This didn’t make sense to the adult player, so on the adult’s next turn he asked her about the feeling of “fast”. The little girl went on to explain that it meant “hyper”. This activity helped the child to better convey meaning of a feeling. Then, on another turn the adult stated a worry he had was about ice storms. On the little girl’s turn she asked the adult, “If you are afraid of ice storms why don’t you just stay home and build a fire?” This type of communication and expression is a good beginning in helping your children learn to discuss feelings in a fun, comfortable and low pressure environment.
One of the more common practices used by parents is to have kids share around the dinner table by telling the worst thing about their day and the best thing about their day. This works to a point. If your child says, “The best part of my day is I got an A on my test and the worst part of my day is we had music class.” This may be only telling you information you already knew and then what?
Since you have a captive audience at the dinner table, open ended questions such as, “Tell me more about that”, “What happened next?” and “What did you think about that?” may encourage the child to go into more detail. At this point the smart parent knows when to stop asking questions, refrain from criticizing what the child has said and simply states, “Thank you for sharing, that was really interesting.”
For the child who shares more than the parent wants to know and has no problem talking at great length about their day, it can be a good lesson to help that child with precision of language. For example, as a six year-old child I remember my grandfather asked me if I wanted an ice cream cone and I replied, “I don’t care.” He said, “Well, when you do care, let me know and you can have an ice cream cone.” Of course I wanted an ice cream cone; I just didn’t convey my thoughts with the correct words. I learned a lesson that day, precision of language is important.
You can provide opportunities for encouraging clear verbalization of the child’s feelings by restating their expressed communication back to them and it will also let them know you are truly listening.
For example, your child exclaims after school, “I hate Emily. She told Jacob I liked him and now everyone is teasing me.” You might respond, “You must feel betrayed because Emily told your secret. Have you told Emily how you feel?” Almost assuredly a dialogue will begin about friendship, loyalty and relationships.
Ultimately, the child who has learned early in life that communication with their parent can lead to a solution to their problems, is more likely to tell parents about their day, their friends and their life.