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Effective Communication with Children – Hear the Unheard!
‘Choose your words wisely’, they say. Words, if not used appropriately, can cut like a knife, be misinterpreted, or fail to bring about the desired response. This holds true, especially with kids. I’m sure all you mums will agree with me when I enquire about your kid’s response when you ask them to do something – silence, no reaction, a blank stare (like you are some kind of alien), or sometimes followed by a thunderous yell from you for their reply. I used to be constantly yelling, trying to get my voice heard over the chaotic din of the little rascals during their playtime. It dawned upon me that this was only affecting my vocal health and mental sanity. It’s no wonder they say that women talk 20,000 more words than the mere 7,000 words of men.
Communication is defined as the exchange of information, either through written, verbal, or other media. It requires both parties to be attentive and receptive. This is easier said than done, especially with kids. How many parents out there have probably said these statements to someone or the other, “They never listen to what I am saying.” “My throat hurts by the end of the day trying to out scream-them, so that my views are heard.” “They do just the opposite of what I am saying.” “Why won’t they listen to me when I am talking to them?”
Well, I don’t know how many of you have vocalized these statements, but I, for sure, have been on this bandwagon. It appeared that I was constantly repeating the same statement, yelling at the top of my voice (I’m sure the neighbours’ kids would have cleaned up their toys, too, with the tone and pitch of my voice!), and just losing my peace of mind (I really thought I needed an admission into a Mental Facility by the end of it). So, what was the transformation? What made them sit up and listen to me? What better way than to pen down a few pointers that helped me communicate more effectively with my kids!
DID YOU NAIL IT? OR ARE YOU MISTAKEN?
1. Remember that your child is an individual and is capable of thinking for himself.
Most often, my motherly, protective, yet sometimes overpowering demeanor takes over, and I order the children around, forgetting that they are individuals who have to be spoken with, not ‘at’. The other day, I ordered my son to pick up his toys. He retorted,” Mum, you always tell me to say “please”, then why don’t you?” This statement really flabbergasted me. We teach our children to speak kindly, but so often forget it ourselves.
2. Always try to incorporate more positive than negative words.
Imagine a scenario where you go to visit your friend at her place, and she constantly barrages you, “Don’t take your shoes off”, Don’t put your glass on the table without a coaster”, “Don’t put your legs on the sofa.” How would you feel? I’m sure that you, as an adult, would feel humiliated. Imagine our kids, who are always aiming to please us, constantly listen to our tirade of “don’ts”, “no’s” and “stop”. Instead, try to incorporate more positive words into your communication.
“Don’t colour on the walls” can be communicated as “Your colouring will look superb in a book. Do you want to give that a try?”
“Don’t hit your brother” can be communicated as “Please behave gently with your brother.”
“Don’t eat the mud!” can be changed to “I can see that you are hungry, would you like something to eat?”
3. Avoid blaming the child, but highlight the impact of the behaviour.
Most often, we start our statements like, “You are a bad boy. You never listen.” Instead, we could rephrase the statement like, “Your behaviour offends me. I would appreciate if you could listen to me.” “You are talking nonsense” could be rephrased as “I cannot understand what you are saying. Could you repeat it?” By rephrasing statements in the affirmative, we prevent our children from feeling hurt and get our point across in a positive way.
4. Appreciation goes a long way.
Just a few words of praise can make us feel so happy and content. Thanking children for a task done well by them is often forgotten by us. Imagine what it could do to a child whose sole purpose is to gain his parents’ recognition. “Thank you for folding the clothes today, mummy really appreciated it.” “I love the way you have arranged your books today.” “You did a good job of cleaning up your room.”
5. Productively utilize a situation.
Imagine a scenario where you have been repeatedly telling your child to place the plate in the centre of the table to avoid it from falling, which goes unheeded, and finally, the plate with the uneaten food falls. What is your reaction? I am certain most of you would respond by screaming or saying “I told you not to do that.” What is of the essence here, is that the accident has already happened. You screaming or belittling your child does not change the situation. What can be said is, “ Why don’t we get the broom, and you can sweep that away?” This teaches the child the consequences to his actions, so that he may pay more attention the next time he is at the table with his plate of food.
GUIDELINES TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR CHILDREN
1. Communication should aim at all-round child improvement.
When communicating with your child, remember to include aspects already imparted to him, or age-appropriate aspects which they can be taught.
a. Bed time stories can include stories about a particular good habit you want to teach the kids. Incorporating whimsical characters into the story can keep them attentive and amused. Thus, learning, along with fun, can take place.
b. Reminding your kids to let others enter or exit an elevator first teaches them not only good manners, but also to respect others.
c. Teaching your boys a few basic skills in the kitchen will help them learn gender equality and a life skill, which in turn will churn out better human beings in the future. For example, my 11 year old nephew helps his mum with cutting veggies.
2. Communication should be appropriate to the growth and development of your child.
Including games, dance, and stories into your communication can make it a fun process, and something your kids would want to listen to and follow. For example, if you’re clearing up the toys, play a fun game of who cleans up the fastest, or ensure the toy box is in front of you, and keep calling out a toy that they have to quickly retrieve and put into the box. This makes the mundane task a lot more fun.
Also, getting them to wash their hands for 20 seconds can be communicated to them as, “Continue to wash your hands till you finish singing the Happy Birthdays song.” This will ensure the 20-second rule, and they will learn the song, too, due to continuous repetition of it.
3. Communication should be constructive.
a. Avoid focusing on the kid, but highlight the behavior. “You are a bad boy.” can be communicated as, “Your behavior has upset me.”
b. Circumvent the past and concentrate on the future by avoiding sentences like, “This is not the first time you have broken a plate. Last month, too, you did the same.” This kind of communication will only make the child feel victimized in the eyes of the parent.
c. Active listening is imperative in your role as a parent. Put away your phones and laptops, and establish eye contact when your child is speaking to you. A response like, “Yes, I agree with you.”, “That is a fantastic idea”, “Can you tell me more about your day in school?” will not only help your child communicate better, but will also help him open up and avoid hiding any incidents from you when he is older.
4. Be a positive role model.
Effective communication begins with you. If you tell your child to keep his things in place, ensure you practice what you preach. Our actions speak louder than words.
5. Repeat and get validation.
Avoid communicating with children when they are in the middle of playtime or some activity. Most probably they would not have heard you. Begin your sentence with, “May I have your attention?”, wait for some confirmation, communicate your instruction, repeat it, and wait for them to give you validation that they have heard the request. A simple, “Yes mum, I heard you” or having them repeat what you just asked of them can go a long way.
6. Avoid instilling fear in your communication with your child.
Yelling louder than your child, spanking him, or threatening him will only result in introverted or rebellious children. Instead, find creative ways like narrating stories with a particular behaviour that you want to change, role-playing, using puppets, or making them answer real-life scenarios that may occur. Creating awareness about the future and possible incidents can avoid future stress. Educating them on “stranger danger”, “What to do if you are not at home when they return from school”, and “whom to call in case of emergencies” can avoid accidents or predicaments.
7. Partner up with your child and pre-test your communication.
Spending time with your child can help you learn about his interests, hobbies, and what he is good at. This can be used as a source for starting your communications in the future. For example, if he is interested in art, making him draw a face to better gauge his feelings can help him communicate more effectively. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has recommended that we pre-test our communication by utilizing our children as a guide. Utilizing their inputs will boost their confidence and ensure effective communication, too.
Communicating with your children requires practice. The more you communicate, the better you get at it. Each child is unique, and so is the method of communicating with him. Always remember, a significant aspect of communication is to “read between the lines”!