Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on October 23, 2000. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Communication Helps Relationship With Kids
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Even though babies have their own special language and preschoolers may struggle saying big words, parents and teachers can communicate with children.
Louise Davis, child and family development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said children learn to communicate by imitating the speech and behavior of adults.
To achieve good communication with children, adults should get on a child's level, but use some of the same principles of courtesy and respect as when communicating with adults.
Davis said good communication with children leads to warm relationships, cooperation and feelings of worth. Start by being clear and concise when talking to children.
"Before you begin speaking to children, get their attention. They can focus on only one thing at a time," Davis said. "For example, if your little boy is playing ball, wait until he stops throwing it and looks at you before you tell him dinner will be ready in 10 minutes."
Remember to keep requests simple for children, but be firm with important requests. Also, give children reasons for rules, and look them in the eye when talking to them.
Correct behavior by using "do," rather than "don't." For example, tell him or her to "close the door softly, please," instead of "don't slam the door."
"This shows children you accept them but not their behavior," Davis said.
Correct children as privately as possible and refrain from using harsh words.
"To keep from making matters worse and preventing communication, try not to ridicule, shame or name-call children," Davis said.
Do not hinder children from sharing their feelings by interrupting and scolding them while they are telling a story. If they need to be reminded about a rule they broke, tell them at another time.
Adults should practice good communication skills with children at all times, not just when children are misbehaving.
"Let children know you see when they cooperate, share, care for materials and work on activities," Davis said. "It helps them develop confidence, feelings of self-worth and good relationships with others."
Make sure the conversation is two-way, which means adults should talk and listen.
"Let children know you are listening, but don't pretend to be listening when you are not," Davis said. "If you are busy at the time, tell them you're busy, but set aside a special time to talk with them later."
Davis suggested using "you-messages" and "I-messages" to help in communication.
"Use 'you-messages' to describe children's feelings to encourage them to express themselves. Use 'I-messages' to express your feelings and thoughts, but not your anger," Davis said.
For example, when talking to a child about his or her feelings, say, "You are sad because your dog died," or "You are mad because Jenny wouldn't let you play with her new toy."
Adults should express their thoughts with a phrase such as "I don't understand," instead of "You're dumb." They should avoid using "I-messages" when they are angry and avoid saying statements, such as "I'm really mad at you."
"Children need to learn how to talk about what is bothering them. Hiding bad feelings can be self-destructive. Sometimes children can develop a self-hate attitude, headaches, stomach aches, etc., when they don't learn how to talk about their feelings in a productive way," Davis said.
Be courteous when talking to children by saying "please," "thank you" and "you're welcome," because children imitate adults.
"Be sure to tell your child how pleased you are that she shared. This will encourage her to share more often," Davis said.
Davis offered other advice for getting children to open up and share with adults what is on their minds.
"Be available for them to talk with, and use feeling words when speaking to children. Be a good role model. Praise their good behavior instead of bribing them to be good. Try to see things from their point of view, and take children seriously," Davis said.
She said taking the time to have good communication with children will make life with them more pleasant and help them grow into adults with good feelings about themselves and others.