Engaging with children will help them to become better communicators
How we talk to children has an immediate bearing on how children respond and talk to others so it is imperative that we try to get it right.
A couple of things to consider. When you collect your child from school how do you greet them? I think there are a couple of categories here. There are those parents who see their child , hug and ask about their day. There are some who will collect their child, make no eye contact and usher them straight into the car without engagement. Some parents will acknowledge and then continue an conversation with other waiting parents leaving the child waiting, and there are those who will collect their child whilst on their mobile and continue without a break in their telephone conversation, and parents who will bombard their child with questions, interrogating them. I know that I have probably done all of these when I was collecting my own children from school without thinking of the impact that this end of day greeting has.
Think about the adult that you would like your child to become. How do you think they will need to respond to and engage with others? That is what you must demonstrate. Easier said than done? Yes, at times but we should always remember that we are their role models.
A few things to consider. Are you at the same physical height as your child when you talk to them or are you, literally, talking down to them? Take a moment to bend or bob down to their level or sit together to talk. This will enable them to maintain eye contact and also to see and interpret your facial expressions and see that you are interested in them.
Children take a little while longer to process information. If you bombard them with questions about their day, you may get the classic response of, “Nothing.” or, “Not much.” This isn’t because they did nothing that day, I can guarantee that a school day is very full and pretty exhausting for children, but the non committal response is simply because they have not yet had the chance to process all that they have done or learned. If they have had a tough day, remember they have lived it once, perhaps they are not quite ready to live it again in the retelling. Give them time, time to pause, to reflect and to reason it all through.
When you ask your child questions, ask them one at a time. Then pause. Be patient. They cannot hold or process all the information that you are throwing at them. I liken it to being in France and asking for directions. I have a modicum of French but a native speaker, telling be directions fast and in a complicated manner ………… by the time they have finished I am still at the initial, “Traverser la rue et tournez à droite. ………” whilst looking at my hands to remember what left looks like!
Children need time to process, to understand what has been asked and to formulate their answer. If you rush them, they will stumble over their words, they may panic and become nervous or just not say much, closing down the conversation.
It is the same principle when you are asking a child to do something. How many stages are you asking them to remember? “Take off your shoes, go upstairs and change out of your uniform and put it in the laundry basket. Get your books out of your school bag and settle down to your homework. Did you want a glass of orange juice and something to eat, a sandwich or a biscuit? How hungry are you? What did you have for lunch today? Was it nice?” …………. Get my point? Your child is school-day weary and is still taking their shoes off. Break it down. Chunk it. Give them thinking time. Remember that they are still a child.
There is a great deal in the media about the effect on language that the recent lockdowns have had on children, when parents and children have been so screen-focused. Video calls are all well and good but they do not follow usual social convention, it is hard to interject politely, much of spoken language’s subtleties and nuance is lost and it is very difficult to read body language. The antidote to this is easy , step away from the screen, put the phone down and find the time to talk to your child. Ask them their opinions about things, ask them about counter points of view. Talk to them about their preferences, discuss a book that you have read together or a piece of art. Make up stories about the constellations in the night time sky or the shapes of the clouds in the day time sky. With older children perhaps talk about current affairs and the impact political decisions may have on them.
Look at your child when you talk with them, maintain eye contact, laugh and joke together; listen, actively listen, and engage with them – value what they say. I can guarantee that you will enjoy spending this precious time with your child. Children are engaging and interesting, their thinking is often not yet bound by tradition and you will find their thoughts refreshing and innovative. There are many reasons why I love my job, and one is because I find children fascinating – you will too.
Be the conversationalist that you want your child to become.