7 tips for communicating with young children

Caroline is a child psychologist, but when she’s dealing with her own kids, sometimes all the knowledge she has goes out the window.

“When Isabel was first born and I was looking at her, my first thought was, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing,’” she said. “With kids, everyday is a new adventure. Every day brings new things. While my professional training has helped in those moments where I need to be patient, it’s still very different when it’s my own child.”

Because children’s brains are still developing, Caroline suggests keeping things as concrete as possible when communicating. Kids don’t pick up on subtlety and innuendo like adults do, so while a long sigh may be intended to let them know you are nearing your wit’s end, using your words will work a lot better to settle them down.

Keep these things in mind as you communicate with your children:

1. Keep things clear, concise and simple.

Sometimes, explaining and rationalizing all the reasons behind something is not helpful. Your kids don’t understand where you’re going with it, so you’re likely to lose them.

2. Have empathy for where they are.

Understand that certain things, like blowing out the candles or seeing mommy leave for work or the first day of preschool, are really big and important in their minds. Try to see life from their perspective.

3. Schedule time to catch up.

Create deadlines and intentions for things you want to accomplish with your children, just like the deadlines you have at work. Make time to find out if anything’s bothering your kids, and they’ll be more likely to approach you when they are upset.

4. Use distractions to your advantage.

The shorter and quicker you can communicate about a conflict and move on, the better. Give them something new to think about by saying, “No, you can’t do this. But let’s do this instead.”

5. Keep your messages consistent.

The more consistent you and your partner are together, the more that everyone will understand the expectations. If my husband and I are on the same page, then our kids are getting the same messages from both of us.

6. Pick your battles.

Decide what’s really important and what just isn’t. Because they are kids, some things are okay. If they want ice cream before dinner one time, it’s okay. But when it has to do with their safety or good behavior, for example, then it’s important to give it complete attention.

7. If you say ‘no,’ say it quickly and firmly.

“I’ve found that when I say no, but I feel guilty or don’t really mean it, my kids pick up on that,” Caroline said. Learn to say “no” and mean it. In our family, we have a saying: “No is no.” It’s almost like a song—and for my kids, the bottom line.

Being a professional psychologist has helped Caroline take a unique approach to parenting.

“It’s helped me look at life from my kids’ perspective,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but I feel like my husband and I are able to communicate with my kids, which makes me really happy.”

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