How to communicate effectively with your child

How to communicate effectively with your child
How can I communicate better with my child?

Your child doesn’t yet have the right words to describe their experiences and feelings. They need time to talk to you, and an attentive ear. Discover how to foster good communication with your little one.

Why is good communication with your child important?

Good communication with your child allows you to develop a positive relationship with them. To encourage communication, take the time to speak to your child, listen to them talk about their experiences, and help them find words for their emotions.

Putting your little one’s emotions into words reduces their stress and helps them feel better. This will lead to a sense of security. They will understand that what they’re experiencing is normal, and gradually learn to manage their emotions better.

Being an attentive listener also demonstrates to your child that you’re interested in them and their experiences. In addition to showing them how important they are to you, listening attentively increases their confidence and their trust in adults.

When you practise open, honest communication with your child, it becomes natural for them to tell you things, which can have benefits in the future. For example, when they’re older, they may feel comfortable confiding in you about what’s happening in their life or coming to you when they need advice.

How can you develop good communication with your child?

Here are some tips for ensuring good communication with your child.

  • When they have something to tell you, give them your full attention to make sure you understand what they’re trying to say. Avoid doing other things at the same time, such as answering emails.
  • Try to find someplace quiet, with no distractions, where you can talk to each other. Avoid trying to have a conversation in the middle of a family gathering, for example. Pick a time when you are fully available.
  • Choose a time when your child is available, too! If they’re concentrating on a game, they may not feel like talking. Mealtimes and your child’s bedtime routine are often good opportunities to chat.
  • As much as possible, get down to eye level with your child when you talk to them.
Doing something fun with your little one can help them relax and open up to you.
  • Avoid interrupting your child when they speak. Let them finish expressing an idea, even if you disagree with it. You can explain your own opinion afterward.
  • Make sure you understand what they are trying to tell you. For example, you can summarize what they say in your own words or ask them questions.
  • Show empathy. Even if daycare drama strikes you as silly, the emotions it brings out in your child are real. As they explain what happened, you can tell them how you feel about it (e.g., “I’m sad Max doesn’t want to play with you anymore”). Your child will feel even more heard and respected. Emotions are normal, and it’s important to discuss them openly.
  • If your child is feeling frustrated, show that you hear them by naming their emotions. Try to describe their experience: “Your sister took your toy away. I can see that made you really mad,” or “Are you disappointed that we didn’t go to the park because of the rain?” Naming their emotions will comfort your child, and they’ll gradually learn to understand how they feel. This will help them talk to you about it.
  • Pay attention to their nonverbal communication. Your child’s moods and actions can help you understand them. For example, if your little one seems more irritable than usual, it could mean something is bothering them.
  • Avoid asking too many questions, which for some children can feel intrusive. To begin the conversation, share your opinion without judgment, and allow your child to open up at their own pace. If talking face-to-face seems to make them uncomfortable, try talking while playing or taking a walk together outside.
  • Avoid criticizing your child or making generalizations with words like always or never. For example, saying “You’re always so slow when we have to go to daycare” or “You’re never happy with your supper” may cause your child to shut down. When you speak, use “I” instead of “you” so that they don’t feel attacked.
  • Do family activities together. This will make your child feel like an important part of the family and encourage them to talk to you more often.
  • Limit screen time. Any type of screen (e.g., cellphone, tablet, TV) can divert your or your child’s attention and get in the way of conversation.

What if my child isn’t very talkative?

It’s possible your child won’t speak very much even if you follow all the tips mentioned above. Some kids are quieter than others—it’s simply a matter of personality. It’s important to respect this character trait.

Pushing your child to confide in you won’t do much good; they could retreat into their shell even more. Here are some tips to help them open up.

  • Ask questions that encourage your child to talk. For example, instead of asking vague questions (“What did you do today?”), which they may find difficult to answer, try asking things like “Did anything fun happen at daycare?” or “Who did you play with today?” Keep in mind that it’s always easier to talk about positive events.
  • Tell them about your own day. This might prompt them to do the same.
Sometimes, just being with your child is enough to create a bond. Hugs and cuddles are also valid ways to communicate.
  • Look to their interests for conversation topics (e.g., animals, cartoon characters, different modes of transportation). Your little one might be quicker to talk about things that interest them. This also shows that you value their opinions and preferences.
  • Read books with them regularly. Encourage your child to comment on the pictures and story by sharing your own thoughts or asking them questions. For example, ask them how they think the story will end. This activity will get them into the habit of talking to you.
  • Play with your little one. They may have an easier time expressing how they feel while engaged in play. For example, they might reveal things they’re worried about through what they draw or what they make their dolls or figurines say. When you play with your child, they feel like you’re listening. This can encourage them to confide in you.

For more information, see our fact sheet on quiet children (French only).

Things to keep in mind

  • Establishing good communication with your child helps create a positive relationship.
  • Good communication requires taking the time to listen to your child, helping them put their feelings into words, and giving them your full attention.
  • Talking about things that interest your child and telling them about your day are good ways to encourage them to talk to you.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Annie Goulet, psychologist
Research and writing: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: February 2024

Photos: GettyImages/PeopleImages and PeopleImages

Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Beauchamp-Dupont, Sarah. « Ça peut rendre l’information accessible et connecter les gens entre eux autant que ça peut les déconnecter » : la technologie au service des jeunes familles ou un obstacle à la relation parent-enfant? Ottawa, University of Ottawa, 2019, 111 pp.
  • Beaulieu, Danie. 100 trucs pour améliorer vos relations avec les enfants. Montreal, Les Éditions de l’Homme, 2019, 120 pp.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Communicating with your child.” 2019.
  • Faber, Adele, and Elaine Mazlish. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Updated edition, Scribner, 2012, 384 pp.
  • Faber, Joanna, and Julie King. How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2 to 7. Illustrated edition, Scribner, 2017, 432 pp.
  • Ferland, Francine. Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien de 0 à 6 ans. 2nd ed., Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 264 pp.
  • Ferland, Francine. Simplement parent : trucs pour accompagner votre enfant au quotidien. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2016, 167 pp.
  • Gordon, Thomas. Parents efficaces : les règles d’or de la communication entre parents et enfants. Vanves, Éditions Marabout, 2020, 448 pp.
  • KidsHealth. “Communication and your 4- to 5-year-old.” 2022.
  • Néel, Sophie. La communication positive parents-enfants: une méthode douce et ludique pour aider votre enfant à dépasser ses peurs, cauchemars, émotions négatives, timidité… Paris, Éditions Josette Lyon, 2016, 196 pp.
  • Parent, Nathalie. La famille et les parents d’aujourd’hui : la communication entre parents et enfants. 2nd edition, Montreal, Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2013, 184 pp.
  • Tavernier, Édith. La Communication NonViolente avec les enfants. Brussels, Éditions Mardaga, 2023, 160 p.

Board game

  • Thibeault, Sylvie. Storytime. Saint-Romuald, Éditions Gladius, 2021. (ages 4 and up)