Talking to Kids So They Will Listen and Listening So They Will Talk

Children are amazing people. They are full of wonder and discovery. However, sometimes talking to them seems to be futile. You wonder if they even hear you. Sometimes what you are trying to tell them can be carried with them through the rest of their lives. You want to make sure that they get the lesson. As unlikely as it may sound, you can talk to your children so that they will listen and open those lines of communication so that they will talk to you when they need someone. Here are some tips to open the lines of communication between you and your children.


Minimize Yelling

No one likes to be yelled at by someone. This statement is even more accurate for a toddler navigating the world for the first time. Sometimes they will make poor choices or mistakes, but that does not mean that they cannot learn from those mistakes and poor choices. However, yelling will increase their stress levels. We have more trouble retaining information when we are under stress. When you yell at your child, his or her stress level increases, which decreases the retention of information—remain calm when talking to your children.

Get Creative

Serious talks are often too much for children to handle. You may want to sit down and talk to your child about his or her behavior or appropriate contact between children and adults. However, your toddler may not be able to handle the seriousness of a deep conversation. Instead, write a puppet show, read an engaging book, or make a teddy bear the sheriff of the bedroom. Whatever you choose, you should make it fun and relatable for your child. You cannot force your child to pay attention to a deep conversation, but you can help your children engage in even the most controversial subjects when you meet them on their level.

Be Specific

Let’s face it. Toddlers are cute, and sometimes extremely smart, but they are not expert communicators. They cannot read between the lines very well. Rather than depending on them to understand everything that you want, you need to help them learn what you want specifically. Rather than saying, “Put your things away,” consider saying, “Hang your jacket and bookbag on the hook and bring your lunchbox into the kitchen.” When they get into the kitchen, tell them, “take your cup out of your lunch box and pour it into the sink. Then, empty the trash from your lunchbox.” This may seem like a long, drawn-out activity, but toddlers do not remember everything they need to do. If they take a lunchbox to daycare or a babysitter while you work, they may not know what to do with it when you say to put it away. This confusion is when you find half-eaten sandwiches a week later.

Chunk Steps and Shorten Reminders

In addition to being specific, children have trouble remembering too many steps at once. They remember bits and pieces of material and only complete partial tasks if there are too many listed. Children can do twelve tasks, but you cannot ask them to do twelve things at one time. They will get overwhelmed and not complete the tasks as quickly as they should. Likewise, children often struggle to grasp all of the information if you use too many words. For example, a child can understand, “Use gentle touches,” much better than “We do not need to hit our friends.” Children’s attention spans are much shorter than older kids. You cannot speak to toddlers and school-aged children in the same manner.


Pay Attention

Put your phone away and turn off outside distractions. Your child needs to know that his or her words are important to you. You need to focus on your child when he or she is communicating. The more you pay attention to the little things, the more confidence your child will have when communicating the big things.

Be Honest

When you are not able to devote your full attention to your child, be honest about it. The same is true for when you do not understand, or you dislike something that they tell you. Your children know when they are not being listened to or heard. If you are honest about it, they will understand that it is not because you do not want to listen, but because you are confused. If you do not like what you hear, being honest should be your top priority, but try to maintain the talking tips from above.

Be Interactive

Ask questions and engage with your child while they are talking. This step is more than just paying attention and listening. Get to know your child. Ask them why they chose to do what they did or why they like the thing they are telling you. They will see that they are important to you, and when they need to talk about something more serious, they will already know that they can count on you to care.

Final Thoughts

Entire books have been written on talking to your children. However, this is just a short post. There are more things we can do, but if you start with these simple steps, you are sure to make your child feel more comfortable. You know what makes your child comfortable. Start there and try to make your child feel at ease. If puppets make them uncomfortable, obviously, that will not make them feel like they are having fun. However, many children like pretend play and creativity. Build villages with your kids while talking to them or race them in the yard. Whatever you choose, be sure that you make your child the focus of your talks more than your wants, needs, or preferences. Honesty, love, and support will go a long way to help your child to listen and to open up to you about the things they want, need, or prefer. Remember that if your child is under stress, talking and listening might briefly be off the table. Take your time. Your child will get there, and so will you.


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