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Five tips to help your child communicate more effectively

Linda Blair, clinical psychologist and parenting expert, gives us five practical ideas to help your child communicate more confidently.

Trust – that certain trust that your child won’t be judged harshly when trying to express themselves – lies at the heart of all healthy parent-child relationships. 

Children naturally want to understand the world around them and to communicate that knowledge to the people they love so, in a way, it’s easy to get your children to talk. At the same time, it can feel tricky to encourage their efforts, in case your reaction or your reply appears judgmental, that is, if it makes them feel they somehow got it ‘wrong’.

What are some of the best ways to encourage your children to open up to you and others with enthusiasm and confidence?

1. Make it clear that what they have to say is important

When your child wants to tell you something, stop doing whatever else you’re doing. If instead you ask them to wait, they’re quite likely to become distracted, and you’ll have lost an opportunity to hear how they’re experiencing the world. 

Turn off any devices you may be attending to, look at them directly and listen with full attention.

Not only will your willingness to prioritise them raise their self-esteem, it will teach them by example how to be good listeners themselves.

2. Let them explain in their own way

Family on holidayYoung children’s strategies for organising their experience differ from that of adults. Until they’re about six or seven, they're unlikely to 'decentre' or show an understanding of other people’s point of view. 

They’re also more likely to group experiences by the way the experiences made them feel, rather than by timing or the order in which they took place.

Furthermore, young children are just learning to categorise objects and events as adults do, so the way they organise their narrative may sound novel and surprising. Allow this. They’ll learn adult categorisation soon enough. Meanwhile, if you encourage them to explain the world in their own way, their observations may sow the seeds for creative thought later on.

3. If you ask questions, focus on the meaning rather than on your child’s language skills

In a study at Harvard, Courtney Cazden showed that young children learn to use language more skillfully if listeners ask them to expand on the meaning of what they say and ignore any grammatical mistakes, rather than if they correct their grammar directly.

4. Be an explorer yourself

Parent and child communicatingYou are your child’s most potent role model: the attitudes you show are the ones they’re most likely to adopt.

Try as often as possible to show an active curiosity about the world around you. Be open to new ideas and experiences and regard new learning as an adventure. 

Remember to describe your experiences positively. For example, avoid referring to something as ‘impossible to understand’; say instead that you ‘need more information’. And rather than facing a ‘problem’, always face a ‘challenge’.

5. Read to your children

Stories are made up of five essential elements: characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. They represent the best way we have to organise and recount our experiences. When you read and/or tell stories to your children, you show them in a natural and enjoyable way how best to communicate their experiences to others. And of course, the truly classic stories offer an additional bonus, rich examples of how to use language beautifully and effectively.

Linda Blair is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, a Chartered Scientist and a registered practitioner psychologist. She writes a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph and has written five books on various aspects of parenting and stress management.

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