Each stage of children’s life presents new challenges in communication. What you want is that you build a trusting and positive relationship with your child and that they feel safe enough to tell you everything. That demands something from you as a parent in daily communication. We give a number of practical tips that help you to maintain good communication within the family.
It is in any case good to realize that every child wants to feel welcome, wants to be appreciated and wants to trust that they can always fall back on you (offer safety and security).
Five aspects are important when communicating with children:
It is important that you are sensitive to what is on your child’s mind. You observe signals and let the child know that you have seen them and want to help where necessary. An example: if a child cries or looks sad, you pick it up or put an arm around him to comfort him. You also place yourself at eye level with your child when you want to make contact. This way you create a more equal contact, which helps to start a conversation.
It also has to do with showing an interest in what your child is doing. Appreciate a beautiful piece of work or a difficult calculation! Try to express your appreciation in an I-message, in which you show that you like the behavior and in which you do not pass judgment on your child as a person. For example: “Yes, I see that you have cleaned your room, now I can vacuum immediately and then I even have time left.” You then stimulate intrinsic motivation much more than when you emphasize performance.
TIP: Pay attention to everyone. Even the one that barely stands out.
Also pay close attention to body language. You can often tell from a child’s attitude whether he is comfortable or not. (Examples of signals: head bowed, not wanting to look at you, walking sluggishly slowly (tired sad), looking around restlessly (distracted easily, bored) Here too you can use the I-message very well to indicate what you see to your child: “I see that you are bowing your head, are you feeling sad?” This is how you check whether you are right and you invite your child to express himself. There is also no judgment in this message Compare this with the so-called you-message, in which you stop a judgment much faster: “Are you grumpy again? Come on, don’t act like that!”
Don’t be impatient if a child doesn’t open up right away. Give it time and be patient. Ask questions, but don’t force anything. Show interest and provide security. There is a greater chance that the child will want to confide in you.
Also ‘showing yourself’ to your child is extremely valuable and inviting. Tell what you find important or value, the child really gets to know you as a person. It will strengthen the relationship.
Respect for the autonomy of the child
Every child is unique and has its own temperament. Every child has a need for autonomy. A small child is still highly dependent on its parents and caregivers for many basic needs, but as it gets older, the need for autonomy will increase. Stimulate this independence as much as possible, but set clear boundaries. Small children learn by discovery and by doing. Stimulate and guide them in this learning process. Do not intervene immediately, but let children solve a problem themselves first. Small children feel great and strong when they are allowed to help others and do things themselves. So it’s always good to encourage this behavior.
TIP : Do small activities around the house together. For example, folding the laundry with your toddler. They find that exciting, want to help you and learn from what you show them. These are also nice moments to have a conversation with your child.
Give older children the space to plan and structure their homework, leisure time, sports, social contacts, etc. As a parent, do you think they pay too little attention to school? Do not immediately get on top of it, but give them themselves (for example in response to recent school results) the space to think about what needs to be done differently. Set boundaries and determine (achievable) goals together. A child is often better able to fill in the path to a goal than we think. Constantly hammering on homework and being close to the skin usually has the opposite effect.
Be aware of compliments.
Adults regularly have a hidden agenda when giving compliments, they want to change the child with it, to manipulate the child. Be aware of this.
Frequently handing out rewards such as compliments often leads to extrinsic motivation. The child does it for you. It is more powerful to let children find their own rewards themselves. Look at the child who thoughtfully cleaned his room above. When you name the behavior and the positive consequence for you, it stimulates intrinsic motivation and autonomy more quickly.
TIP: Asking open questions helps! Some examples:
DON’T: Now go do your homework!
DO: How will you ensure that your homework is completed at the end of the day?
DON’T: Tidy up your room!
DO: When will you tidy up your room this week? Give it a try and see for yourself if it has an effect.
Just to refresh your communication knowledge: What are open questions again? Questions that start with who, what, where, when, why, which and how.
A good conversation with your partner or child and communication in general will go better if you ask more open questions instead of just closed questions.
Talking, explaining and listening
Communicating with children who cannot yet speak is sometimes a challenge. Yet it is very important for later language development. You can communicate with babies by explaining what you are doing in everything you do. Tell slightly older children that you see and appreciate what they are doing! Name what you see and what strikes you. Make sure that you appreciate the behavior! For example: “I see you are building a nice tower!”
Young children often find it difficult to put their feelings into words. Some tips for talking to toddlers:
- Take your time. Please wait patiently for a response.
- Help them articulate the thoughts. Ask questions or say what you think they want to say. Then check whether it is correct.
- Have conversations during an activity. For example, during a game or activity.
- Follow your child in his play and communication. Invite to speak by “humming” and asking open questions: “Hmm” and “What are you drawing there?”
- Feel free to let silence fall, so you give your child the space to organize his inner language.
- Return a ‘crooked’ sentence properly and do not explicitly correct it. Your child is implicitly learning the language correctly.
- Make it clear why you are asking something.
- Alternate open and closed questions.
- Don’t ask too much about when. Toddlers’ sense of time is not yet well developed.
- Don’t take their story too literally. Children sometimes alternate reality and fantasy.
- Don’t ask leading questions. They assume that adults know everything and that what an adult says is correct. So they are easy to influence.
- Finish on time. When the toddler indicates that he has had enough, end the conversation.
Schoolchildren from about 6 years old like to give their opinion about things that happen. Encourage that and try to deepen those kinds of conversations. Here are some tips:
- Go with the reasoning: ‘But if you say it is so…. How can it be…..?
- Passing a question to another child: ‘Juul asks…. What do you think?
- Make a mistake on purpose or misunderstand something on purpose: “So you mean…?
- Sowing doubt: ‘Are you sure what you’re saying?’
- Exaggerating: ‘So we always have to…?
The best attitude in communication is always to let everyone think for themselves before you answer.
Understand your child
A child can sometimes mean something different than it says or it can’t express itself very well yet. Therefore give back to your child what you think it means, the underlying message. “So you think you weren’t treated fairly?” Your child can then indicate whether that is correct or clarify if necessary. This way you get to the core of what it means. You also help your child to come to the underlying feeling and you gradually teach the child to express his emotions.
Do you disagree with what your child is saying? Listen to his story before you go against it! That way you know what’s going on inside them and you can respond better to it. Here too the following applies: Be patient and remain calm. Give your counter-argument in a calm tone and also explain why you feel that way.
Structure and rituals
Young children need clear boundaries for what is and is not allowed. Clearly indicate what is not allowed, but at the same time also provide an alternative. In this way they learn what is acceptable. Instead of: Take it easy; Shall we read a book together?
If you disapprove and correct behaviour, it is important that you check whether the child has understood it, but that you also make it clear that you do not disapprove of the child. So after a confrontation, you make amends and mend the relationship: “Are we boyfriends again?)
It is important that you also make clear what you DO expect from them. If they only hear anger, they don’t know what to do. They may then continue the behavior you forbid or turn into crying or a tantrum.
Again, it is best to convey your expectations in an I-message: “I would like you to clear the table at five o’clock so that I can set it. We can eat at a quarter past five.” It prevents you from putting too much ‘should’ in your message, which causes resistance more quickly: “You have to….”
TIP: Set a limited number of clear rules. Too many rules makes it unclear. Recurring rituals give children structure and support. It gives them peace.
Supporting positive relationships between children
The last point of attention in the family is to ensure positive interrelationships between all family members. Below are a few points of attention:
- Positive attention for all children is of great importance. Young children have a strong sense of atmosphere. Being together and a good relationship between everyone involved is very important to them. It gives them a sense of security.
- Create a we-feeling. You may have fixed rituals or habits within your family in which you socialize together. Think, together at the same time at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Play games or, when the children are a bit older, just have a drink and chat with each other. Make time for it, pay attention to each other and emphasize everyone’s positive contribution to this ‘we’ feeling.
- Name social behavior that you appreciate. If your children are having a great time playing together, if they behave nicely or just have a nice conversation with each other, give them a compliment! Mention the positive behavior and you will see that they will repeat it!
- Very important: Set a good example yourself. If you expect your children to engage in positive conversations and interact with each other, then you should of course exhibit that behavior yourself.
In summary: During this period when we are all a little closer to each other, have a little more patience! Listen to each other and try to keep communication open. Ask each other questions and show interest. Pay attention to each other and appreciate everyone’s input