Good communication between a child and a parent is vital in developing a child’s emotional resilience and self confidence. Establishing positive patterns of family communication when children are young will make it easier to talk about difficult things as they get older.
Talking with very young children may include observations about the things you see at the park or on the way to the shops, an activity they or you are engaged in, or simply sharing a nursery rhyme or book. As your child gets older you may begin to ask your child more about their day. Whatever the age of the child it is important to set aside some special time each day where you can give your child your full attention.
To communicate effectively with your child it is important to develop your active listening skills. When you listen carefully to what your child is saying they will
feel respected and valued. Active listening is particularly difficult when you are tired and will require lots of concentration. If you are not sure about what your child is saying ask for clarification. But try to avoid interrupting, or rushing to respond. Instead give yourself time to really hear what they are saying.
Try to avoid asking too many questions, particularly ‘why?’ as children often find these very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to answer. Bombarding a child with questions can often make children feel pressured and lead to them withdrawing instead of opening up.
When you do ask questions try to connect them to what the child brings to the conversation and avoid ones which require a yes or no response. For example helpful questions might be, “can you tell me more about that?” “What happened next?”
Be respectful of what your child says to you, rather than acting as though it is silly or boring. Don’t dismiss their comments or questions, often children have a very different idea of what it is important to what we do. Avoid put downs, as being overly critical can discourage your child from talking to you.
Try not to ignore your child’s questions. By allowing your child to ask questions and answering them as openly as you can, your child will feel safer and be more likely to express their thoughts.
If you are aware that your child is experiencing a negative feeling, it is helpful to let them know you understand how they feel by saying something like “It sounds like you’re feeling really sad right now.” Comfort and reassure your child, and help your child to move on from the issue that is troubling them. But always let them know that they can return to talk about it at any point again if they need to.