Written by Natalya Ganchina M.Ed.

Communication is essential at all stages of our lives, and especially between parents and children. It is how families share their experiences, support each other, and get through difficult situations. As children get older, it can be harder for parents to have quality one-on-one time, but that doesn’t mean good communication isn’t important. Building a solid foundation for communicating with your child will help you weather hard times together.

Start early
Your child’s brain begins to develop at three weeks, so you can actually start talking to them while they are in the womb. This helps children get accustomed to sounds and voices. After the baby is born, you can tell them how happy you are to have them in your life. Talk about the world, about stars and planets, about plants and trees, about oceans and animals. Keep your voice positive and upbeat. Even if they do not understand the words, they can recognize sounds of excitement and happiness and associate them with you.

Make conversation routine
There is always time to talk to your child. If your child goes to a daycare or school, you can talk about their day in the morning or night, and you can tell them about your day too. You can talk over dinner, or in the car as you commute, or instead of watching TV one night a week. It is important to create an environment at home where your child feels safe bringing up any questions or concerns about everyday life. As your child grows older, these conversations can be longer and more complex. But the habit of daily, in-depth talking starts young.

Encourage storytelling
Your child will talk more if you practice using open, but focused, questions in conversation. Do not ask questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no.” For example, “What did you do today?” is better than “Did you go to the park?” If your child does not have an answer, you can help with hints or suggestions. Children will usually have something to talk about. Whether the story is imaginative or factual, there is joy in sharing time and attention together.

Be supportive
A conversation is not always the time to lecture or correct your child. Even if your child did something that you are not proud of, try to understand why they behaved in particular way and be glad they are talking about it. There is no way to address something without a conversation. The best way to communicate is to listen, not judge.

Remove distractions
Cell phone, radio, TV, Playstation, computer… there are so many digital distractions at home. Turn them off when you want to communicate with your child. Even if you need to be connected for work, spend some time focusing your attention on your child instead of multitasking.
Pay attention to what you say and what they answer. Don’t let thoughts of dirty dishes, a movie you want to see, or anything else distract you.

Practice empathy
As your child grows older, they must learn the art of understanding and empathizing with other people’s feelings and perspectives. This is essential to good communication, and it is a skill you can practice. When they talk about things that happened in school, use the opportunity to consider what their friends or classmates might have thought, why they acted in a certain manner, or who was hurt. Talk about what could have been different. By setting an example of empathy from an early age, children can learn to be considerate communicators.

Enjoy every moment
Whether it is a short conversation over breakfast, or a long conversation before bed, make your time together count. Give yourself the chance to be fully involved. When you feel busy and overwhelmed, when it feels that you have to do everything and there is no time for a simple conversation with your little one, remember that it is impossible back the clock and relive your life.

While some of these tips might seem obvious, they are easy to forget in the face of day-to-day distractions. With all the trials of parenting and growing up, a foundation of strong communication is essential. If you do not learn how to talk to your child today, you may find difficult times ahead.

Suggested reading:
Communication tips for parents, URL: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/communication-parents.aspx


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