Communicate Effectively with Your Young Child by Sharing Adult Control
Sharing adult control helps your child to trust and become confident. It is in that emotional environment that effective communication and language will develop
Childhood memories. Do you remember a time in your childhood when some important and well meaning adult in your life, perhaps a parent or teacher, talked to you and took complete aharge of the situation the conversation?
I have clear memories of such instances, one of which involves an aunt that I loved dearly. When she took care of me she had many wonderful ideas of fun activities to do together but she would inevitably take over by telling me exactly how to do everything. One time when we were making Christmas cards together she gave me step by step directions of how to make the card, fold the paper, what colors to choose, how to paste the ribbons on, etc.
All I wanted to do was make the card to my mother in my own way. It was so frustrating and I still remember the knot in my stomach. I wanted to yell out loud, "Stop! Now!" But I loved her too much to be disrespectful. My aunt, with all her good intentions was not sharing adult control. She was controlling the entire situation. She was talking at me, not with me. I really didn't get a chance to talk at all. And, truth be told, the final outcome was her product, not mine.
SHARING ADULT CONTROL
What would it have looked like for her to share control with me? She would ask me what I wanted to do, first of all. I did want to make the Christmas card. But I wanted to make my own card in my own way and say what I wanted to say to my mother. Had she simply put some materials on the table and let me construct my own creation - however imperfect it may have turned out - I would have been much happier and felt a sense of achievement instead of frustration.
WHY DO WE SHARE CONTROL WITH YOUNG CHILDREN?
Isn't it easier and quicker to make the decisions ourselves and just require children to follow our instructions? Easier, yes. Quicker, definitely. But what do children learn when they simply follow our directions? They learn to follow our directions. That's it. Not much more comes out of it. Children clam up and shut down. They don't open up and talk. They don't have the opportunity to explore their full potential or develop the skills necessary to become effective participators in our world.
However, when we share control and involve children in making decisions about what we are doing together, how they do what they choose to do, what materials to use, how to construct things, how to play various games and so on, the learning process is astounding. Then children start to talk with us. They talk about what they are doing, how they are doing it, how they feel about it, who they played with. In this process young children learn to be partners in life. They become decision makers, creative thinkers, problem solvers, communicators.
By sharing our adult control young children also learn to judge their own work, to value it and to think about it, and to become involved in it to a greater extent than when we direct that work. Instead of controlling children's activities we support those activities and the choices children make in the process. As a result, their work takes on depth and detail and their learning grows by leaps and bounds. And they open up to effective conversation.
MAINTAIN YOUR 50%
One important point to remember in this process is that we share control. We don't relinquish it. We want to avoid going from one extreme to the other. We don't want to go from making all the decisions to making none. Think of it as a partnership where adults and children each have 50% of the control.
For example, if you're sharing control about when to go to bed and your daughter says she wants to go stay up all night you will want to use your 50%. This is the time to discuss that not going to bed isn't an option. We can provide a limited choice and say, "Usually we go to bed around 8:00 but if you'd like to stay up later we could make it nine or ten tonight." In other words, staying up all night is not an option. We decide what the limits are and children get to choose within those limits. Factors such as safety, care of property and people, certain aspects of scheduling are our 50% of the partnership.
WHEN TO SHARE CONTROL
What then are some areas of our daily life where we can share control with children? Here are some ideas: What to wear, what to eat, when to go outside, when to come back inside, who to play with, how to arrange their room, when to go to bed, how to make that Christmas card (puppet, drawing, etc). Get the idea? Just about everything we do with children can include sharing control of the decision making process to some extent.
When experimenting with this process, start small. If you usually choose your child's clothing for school you might start by letting your child decide what to wear to school from a range of clothing that you have pre-chosen. The next step could be to let her choose whatever she wants to wear from her closet. This could be followed by allowing her to choose what clothes to buy (within reason!) The same process can be applied to any area where you are willing to share adult control with your child.
This process can be a little stressful at first because we're changing our approach to communicating with our child. Sometimes it can feel a little scary - as if we are out of control. Stay with it. As long as you keep hold of your 50% you will maintain your perspective.
As you and your child begin to master this concept of partnership you will be able to trust and delight in each other. Keep your eye on the prize: your child's development. Sharing adult control helps your child to trust and become confident. It is in that emotional environment that effective communication and language will develop. The results are well worth the effort.
In our next article we will discuss some specific ways to support young children in becoming strong communicators.
About the Author
Ursula Ansbach is the owner of the online furniture store MyBabyFurniturePlus. She is also a parent, grandparent, teacher and educator who lives on the shores of Lake Erie with her family. http://www.mybabyfurnitureplus.com