Tips for talking to your child
Put your own feelings and views on the back burner and try to see the issue from your child's perspective. Try to put yourself in your child’s position. Do not apply your own standard to evaluate what your child is telling you.
Never laugh at your child
Your child must be able to express their feelings and thoughts without fear of being ridiculed. Remember that children think differently than adults. If you haven’t forgotten your own childhood like an old phone number you still know what that feels like - a monster under the bed, a teacher that ”hates“ you etc. Take your child’s concerns seriously if you want them to confide in you.
Your child is more likely to communicate with you if you share your own feelings and thoughts with them. Let your child know that you are sad and - that is particularly important - what the reason for this feeling is. When your child then bares their own feelings avoid making comparisons or not taking those feelings seriously.
Your body talks
Often our body says more than many words. Your posture tells your child whether you are really devoted to them and whether you are really listening. Talk to your child eye-to-eye, not across the shoulder while doing something else. Whenever possible match your posture to the mood and posture of your child. And sitting down together is always a good idea, because it reduces the distance between “big“ and ”little“ and makes eye contact easier.
Ask specific questions
Do not ask ordinary, general questions such as “Hi, how was it?“ -, which are too general to be answered with anything other than ”good“ or ”stupid“. And avoid the real shocker for children, the word ”why?“, which always backs children into a corner. Questions that start with ”What?“ are good opening lines, because they are more specific and can be answered with one word.
Using conversation starters
Television, although much maligned, can often be a good start for a good conversation, provided you watch the programme with your child. Then your shared fear for Lassie or speculation about how the story of Postman Pat will continue can easily lead into an exchange of ideas about other topics, too.
In order to filter their own thoughts children often need someone to whom they can reveal these thoughts. Often all it needs is someone repeating the child’s statement like an echo, slightly changed, so that the child can understand the feeling behind this statement more clearly and is able to find solutions for their problems. If your four-year old is disturbed, for example, because her best friend has torn down her Duplo house, you could simply say, "That sounds like you are pretty angry with Inga because she has taken your house apart."
Avoiding the imperative
Many ”conversations“ between adults and young children sound something like this: ”Wash your hands! Stop dawdling! Clear that away immediately!“. The only possible response that leaves for a child is to grumble and gripe. It is best to reserve the imperative for real emergencies and dangerous situations and otherwise explain to the child why it is important to you that they do or don’t do a certain thing.
A child’s attention span is still very short, so they can only focus on the most important thing. The more clearly you tell them what you want, the better. So don’t say ”You must be home in time for us to go shopping" but instead say, "You must be back at 4 p.m., because I would like to go out to buy you a new pair of jeans."
Your child must know from birth that you love them regardless of whatever they may say or not say or how heated an argument might be. If your child knows that you love them, they can accept more easily the rules and limits needed to confidently and happily look forward to the future.