Communication is the key to a good relationship with your child. How do you communicate effectively?
Young children don’t yet have all the words to express what they’re experiencing or how they feel. As a result, they need time to talk with you, and they need you to be a good listener. How can you create an environment conducive to communication?
The importance of effective communication
Communicating effectively means taking the time to talk with your child, listening to what they’re experiencing, and helping them put words to their emotions. It’s especially important to do this because communication helps you build a positive relationship with your child.
Listening to your child shows them that you care about them and what they’re experiencing. It indicates that they’re important to you. In addition, it boosts their self-confidence and their trust in grown-ups.
Over the course of a day, your child experiences a variety of emotions that can build up inside of them. Since they don’t always have the words to explain what they’re feeling, they need your help to understand and express what they’re going through. Listening to your little one and naming their feelings helps them release stress and feel better. They develop a sense of security, understand that what they’re experiencing is normal, and gradually learn to manage their emotions better.
Establishing open and honest communication with your child can also have longer-term benefits. It gets them used to telling you what they are going through and may make it easier for them to talk to you later in life about important things, as well as concerns and questions they may have.
How can you establish good communication with your child?
Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively with your little one.
Try to talk in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Don’t attempt to start a conversation when your family is busy doing other things. Choose a time when you know you’ll be free and a place where you can talk without being disturbed. Communicating with your child will be easier if they feel that you are paying attention. So try your best not to multitask (e.g., answering emails) while your child is talking to you. It’s important for them to feel that they have your undivided attention.
- Choose a time when your child is available to talk. They may not want to have a conversation if they’re focused on playing. Mealtime and bedtime are often good opportunities to focus on your child and talk to them.
- Whenever you can, get down to eye level with your kid when you’re talking.
Doing something fun with your little one can help them relax and open up to you.
- Don’t interrupt your child while they’re talking. Try to give them your full attention so you understand what they’re saying. Let them finish what they’re saying even if you don’t agree with it. You can explain your point of view afterwards.
- Make sure you understand what they are trying to tell you. For example, you can rephrase what they say in your own words or ask them questions.
- If your child is frustrated, show them that you’re listening by putting their feelings into words. Try to describe what they’re experiencing: “Your sister took your toy, and I can tell that it made you angry” or “Are you disappointed that we didn’t go to the park because of the rain?” When you name your child’s emotions, it’s comforting to them. They also gradually start to understand what they’re feeling, which makes it easier to talk to you about it.
- Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Your child’s attitude and actions offer clues that can help you understand them better. If your little one seems more irritable than usual, for example, it may be a sign that something is bothering them.
- Try not to ask too many questions. Some children find this invasive. Instead, start by giving your own opinion and let your child open up to you at their own pace. If they don’t seem to like one-on-one discussions, you can talk while you play or while taking a walk outside.
- Avoid talking down to your child or generalizing situations with words like always or never. For example, the phrases “You’re always slow when it’s time to go to daycare” or “You never like your dinner” can cause a child to become withdrawn. Also remember to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. This prevents your child from feeling criticized.
- Do activities as a family. Your child will feel like an important part of the family, which will make them more interested in talking with you.
What to do if your child just isn’t much of a talker
Even if you follow all these tips, your child may still not talk much. Some kids are quieter than others—it’s simply a question of their personality. It’s important to accept that this is part of who they are. There’s no need to pressure your child to confide in you. This could actually cause them retreat even further into their shell. That said, you can try certain strategies to gently encourage them to talk more.
- Ask questions that will get your child talking. For example, they may have trouble answering a vague question like “What did you do today?” Instead, ask your child something more specific: “What fun things happened at daycare today?,” “Who did you play with?,” or “What was your favourite activity today?” Remember that it’s always easier to talk about positive events.
- Tell them about your own day. This may encourage them to talk about their day in return.
Sometimes just being with your child is enough to build a bond. Hugs and cuddles are also valid ways to communicate.
- Use your child’s favourite topics (e.g., animals, cartoon characters, cars and trucks) as conversation starters. They’re more likely to talk about something that interests them. This approach also shows them that their opinions and tastes are important to you.
- Read books with your child frequently. Encourage your child to talk about the pictures and the story by asking questions or simply commenting on them yourself. For example, ask them how they think the story will end. This gets them used to talking to you.
- Play with your little one. Sometimes, play can help children put their feelings into words. For example, they might express their worries by making their dolls and action figures talk or by drawing a picture of something that happened that day. When you play with your child, they feel that they have your attention, and this can encourage them to open up and talk to you.
For more information, read our fact sheet on quiet kids (in French).
Things to keep in mind
Learning to effectively communicate with your child helps you build a positive relationship with them.
It’s important to take the time to listen to your child, help them put words to what they’re experiencing, and give 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.
Scientific review: Annie Goulet, psychologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2018
Photos: iStock.com/fotostorm and GettyImages/digitalskillet
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
American Psychological Association. “Communication tips for parents.” www.apa.org
Beaulieu, Danie. 100 trucs pour améliorer vos relations avec les enfants. Montreal, Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2016, 64 pp.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Communicating with your child.”www.cdc.gov
Faber, Adele, and Elaine Mazlish. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Scribner, 2012, 384 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.
KidsHealth. “Communication and your 4- to 5-year-old.”kidshealth.org
Parent, Nathalie. La famille et les parents d’aujourd’hui : la communication entre parents et enfants. Montreal, Les Éditions Quebecor, 2008, 180 pp.