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How you speak to your child matters

When talking to children, we usually change the way we speak so that it becomes easier for them to understand us. We tend to use a command to instruct them on what they can or cannot do. However, the way we speak to toddlers and preschoolers can be the same way we speak to our adult family and friends. The use of simpler words may be the only difference. In this article, we will share five pointers that will help us be more mindful in our communication with toddlers and preschoolers. You may already be doing some or all of them!

Some things you can try to do or change while speaking to infants, toddlers and preschoolers:

  1. Ask for their opinions

We may think that we adults need to make the decision for toddlers and preschoolers as we are better informed and therefore have a better idea of what is good for them. However sometimes, by doing so, we rob them of their expressions and opinions. When it is a decision for them, we could ask for their opinions and hear what they think. You could start by hearing their opinion when deciding what to eat. You may be surprised at how they have formed their opinions and it may not be as bad a decision as you think. In fact, it is difficult to determine if a decision is good or bad, so it’s sometimes good to let it play out. This way, they also learn the concept of cause and effect and learn to deal with the consequences of their decisions.

  1. Ask open-ended questions

How often do we ask toddlers and preschoolers questions, and of those questions, how many are open-ended questions? Even though their vocabulary may be limited, asking open-ended questions invites them to share more about themselves. This helps you to gain insight on how they think and feel. For open-ended questions, there may not be just one answer to it too, so toddlers and preschoolers do not feel that they have to have a correct answer. Asking open-ended questions also helps to spark curiosity as when they do not know the answer to it, they may want to know and learn more about it. Even if they reply with a “I don’t know”, you could continue to ask questions to guide them to start or think in a different way to see if they are interested in the topic.

  1. Inform instead of command

Perhaps it is the way we are used to talking, we can be quite direct in our form of communication and this translates to us giving more commands in our way of talking. However, for children, it may seem that we are imposing a form of authority on them when we use commands. We could make an effort to change the way we phrase purposefully so that we do away with commands. Instead of telling them to go brush their teeth or wash up to sleep, we could instead inform them that it is time for bed. They know the routines they need to do so let them do it without having to be told. By informing them of what is going to happen or what you are doing in view of it, you are giving them cues to ask them to do something without directly commanding them to do so. This form of communication helps to show that you respect them as an individual and puts some responsibilities of their own behaviour on them.

  1. Using the positive form of phrases

If we do have to give an instruction, we should try to use positive words. When we use phrases like “do not run” or “do not talk” the last words usually indicate the action or movement that we do not want the toddlers and preschoolers to do. However, it is also the last word that they hear, spurring them to take action in that form instead. So instead of using the negative form of phrases with the words “do not”, we should try to phrase it in a positive manner by directly using the action words that we want them to do. Instead of asking them not to run, we could tell them to walk and instead of asking them to stop talking, we could ask them to be quiet. Negative phrases usually have a negative connotation to it and will seem like a scolding. Phrasing the words in a positive manner also helps to make the tone softer.

  1. Avoid overly praising or criticise

Praising or criticising too much may result in an overinflated ego on one end or a desire to be acknowledged on the other. Before you think of praising your toddler or preschooler for doing something, try to think if you would do the same if an adult achieved it. If you would not, then it may not be necessary to praise a toddler or preschooler for that. Similarly, we also need to keep our criticisms in check. Everyone is different and as we respect each person as a different individual, we should expect that each person’s ability and development be different. If there’s something that they are unable to do as well, we may be quick to say something negative but at that moment, perhaps it is more important to pause and think before we say anything out loud. At times, they already feel disappointments and need encouragement instead of criticism.

Communication is a skill that everyone has to learn continuously as everyone has to use it in every aspect of our lives. Especially in the early years, infants and toddlers pick this up from their parents and infant care or childcare teachers as their early lives centre around mainly these people. So the way we speak as parents and teachers affect how they would communicate in future. The pointers above also show how our communication can affect other aspects of the development of infants and preschoolers. Therefore, much thought should be put into how we would want to communicate with our young learners.

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