How to Communicate Effectively With Children

Andrew Olney/Photodisc/Getty Images

Parents frequently joke that their children don’t hear a word they say unless it’s something they don’t want them to hear. The truth is children hear more than you think and learn to communicate with you the same way you communicate with others. Being a good listener and good communicator yourself sets the stage for positive communication with your kids. There are several pitfalls to look out for along the way.

Step 1

Get your child’s attention before trying to communicate with him. Expecting your child to listen to you when he is engaged in another activity -- which he likely finds more interesting than you -- is not realistic. Unless it’s an emergency, give him time to finish what he is doing before sitting down for a friendly chat.

Step 2

Make time to talk to your child frequently. Talking with your child about her day and her views on the world and listening to what she has to say opens the lines of communication. Talking when there are no pressing issues to discuss sends the message that communication is a normal part of life and not something reserved for when things go wrong.

Step 3

Listen to what your child has to say. Even though you may not always agree, listening to his opinion lets him know you care about what he thinks and feels. Listening also builds understanding and lets you delve a little deeper into his life.

Step 4

Ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes-or-no answer. Instead of asking “How was your day?” when junior returns from school, ask a question that requires some thought, such as “What is your favorite part of the book you are reading in school?” Follow up with open-ended questions about why it appeals to him, recommends

Step 5

Tell your child exactly what you want or expect when giving instructions or setting guidelines. Being vague leaves too much wiggle room when things go wrong. Assuming your child understands what you want or expect without communicating clearly may lead to disappointments that you could have avoided.

Step 6

Resist the urge to lecture or reason with a child who is too young to reason or is in an emotional state that is not conducive to reasoning. Parents sometimes need to make their wishes known, or dole out consequences, without defending their decisions. While explaining the rationale for your decisions to older children may improve communication, sometimes it is better to delay that discussion to when everyone is calm.

Step 7

Model the behavior you want your child to develop. If you want your child to be an effective communicator, let her see you in action, and, chances are, she will learn some skills from you.