This is the first article of a series on how to communicate with your young child
Young children live in a world of their own in so many ways. That world is delightful and filled with wonder. It enchants us. And, as parents of a first baby, as a new teacher, or as any adult who hasn't worked or lived much with young children, if we are honest, it can also be confusing. It's easy to mis-read the signals young children give us. It's easy for us to superimpose our perceptions, which are so different from those of young children. Studies show that effective adult-child communication helps children grow and develop. How to communicate effectively with our young children? How do we talk with our young children?
It's pretty simple, actually, and it requires both less and more of us than we think! What we need to do less of is talking. What we need to do more of is listening, watching, observing. When we observe our children and listen to them, they will tell us what they need, who they are, what they are interested in and how to respond to them. In doing this, we share our adult power and control and teach children early on how to be responsible partners in the world.
Although this is simple in theory it isn't always easy to do. Basically, there are two beginning steps to accomplishing this. The first step is to observe our children. No agenda. No big thoughts about what to teach them or say to them. Just watch what they are doing. Try this with your child for a couple of minutes and then consider what you have learned about her that you hadn't noticed before. It is absolutely amazing what observation can teach us - how we will see things we didn't know were there.
For example, as I was watching my grandson playing with his legoes recently I observed that he was stacking them according to color. As I continued to watch him I noticed that he was also putting those colors in a particular sequence that repeated itself. Bingo! By observing I learned that he not only knows his colors, but that he also has begun to seriate, an important pre-math, pre-numbers skill . Had I looked superficially at his play I would have missed the latter and perhaps even the former concepts he was beginning to master.
The second step is to talk a lot less. Sounds easy. But not necessarily easy to achieve. We're so used to doing all or most of the talking around children. We're so used to feeling that we are supposed to have all the answers and are supposed to know exactly what's needed in every situation. We're used to "taking charge" and acting like we know what's going on even if we don't entirely at all times.
We are also a pretty chatty society and we can feel awkward when silence occurs in conversation. But young children, who think slowly and deliberately, who hold one image in mind at a time and cannot yet remember two or three, who are still forming vocabulary and learning how to speak, young children need this space of quietness to think what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. They need time to absorb what has been said to them. They need time to answer. Our moments of silence will provide that time.
So how do we talk less? Practice. It's all about changing habits. You can practice with your spouse or a good friend or with your child. Try the following exercise: when you are conversing say one thought and stop. Then wait for the other person to respond. And when they do, instead of thinking about what else you are going to say, just LISTEN. Simply hear them. Listen well before you respond. And when you respond again, say one thought and stop again. And listen.
You may feel somewhat strange trying this out. Well, it isn't the way we naturally talk, but it will help you create the habit of listening. It also feels strange if you aren't used to lulls in conversations. But with a little practice, you'll get the hang of it and you will see how beneficial it is in communicating with your child.
Observation is the first step towards effective communication with your young child.
Through observation you will see what your child is interested in, what his skills are, what his wants and needs are, and how to begin to converse. How to converse will be the topic of our next article.
About the Author
Ursula is the owner of the online baby 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