Communicating with your child

Communicating with your child
When you listen to what your child has to say, they can express their emotions and feel better.


As your child grows up, they get better and better at expressing how they feel. However, even when they are “big,” they still need help from their parents or an adult to understand and express their emotions. When you communicate with your child, you are attentive to their emotions and are responding to their need to express them. In addition, you are showing your child that they are important to you.

The importance of communication at school age

During a day at school, a child builds some level of stress and fatigue. Sometimes, they have to refrain from expressing their emotions and must manage them on their own. Indeed, they may not always be comfortable talking about their feelings with their teacher or friends. At other times, it’s simply not appropriate to do so at a given moment.

When you listen to your child once they return home, they can relieve all of this stress and feel better. This creates a sense of emotional security. Your child feels that you have validated their emotions and that their experience is normal. They can then develop strategies to better manage their emotions if a similar situation occurs. They are also more inclined towards learning in class the next day.

Communication also helps you develop a positive relationship with your child. When you listen to your child, you strengthen their self-confidence and their trust in adults. Seeing that you show interest in their life helps them recognize their own value.

Establishing open and honest communication with your child will make them more likely to tell you about the important things happening in their life. Similarly, you will be more comfortable when it’s time to address more difficult topics. If your child knows they can tell you about what they are going through, they will be more likely to keep you in the loop about their needs and concerns. They will also be more comfortable asking you questions.

Keys to good communication

Certain elements are essential to establish good communication with your child.

  • Opt for a quiet environment without distractions. Communication with your child will be easier if they feel that you are attentive. Also limit double-tasking, such as looking at your phone while your child is talking to you. They should feel as though you are focusing all your attention on them.
  • Choose a time when your child is available. Your child may not want to talk if they are deep into a television show or a game. It would be best to wait for another time to have a discussion. Mealtime and bedtime routines can be good times to talk, as long as you avoid topics that might upset your child.
  • Keep it concise and clear. Your child will better understand the message if you use language that matches their level of development. Opt for simple words and short sentences. Also, avoid long monologues. The objective is to have positive discussions.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Through their attitude and gestures, your child sends you messages that can help you better connect with them. For example, looking away, or closed off body language, such as turning their back or lowering their head, may indicate discomfort.
  • Use “I” rather than “you” statements. This will prevent your child from feeling criticized. In addition, you will teach them a good model of communication that they can use with other children.
  • Be respectful. Do not blame or make generalizations using words like “always” or “never.” For example, sentences such as “You always forget your book at school,” or “You never like what’s for dinner,” can lead a child to become withdrawn and hide information from you.
  • Be open. If you disagree with your child, make them understand that it is normal not to agree on everything and try to think about the issue from their point of view. Do not be judgmental. However, explain the values that are important to your family and that must be observed. Being open to what your child has to tell you is important. This will give them a safe space to learn about expressing their ideas.
Discussing an incident at school
If your child has misbehaved at school, focus on that behaviour, not on their character. If you believe they should be reprimanded as a result of the behaviour reported by their teacher, give them an appropriate consequence in relation to their actions. However, remember that they have probably already been disciplined at school. As a result, it may be justified for you to clearly discuss what happened during the day, without the discussion being purely negative. If in doubt, it is best to validate the information directly with the school. If you disagree with something that happened at the school, it is best to speak directly to the school staff rather than discussing it with your child. It is important that your child feels they can trust adults both at school and at home.

How do you encourage your child to talk?

In some situations, humour can facilitate contact between you and your child.

Going to school helps your child learn how to better express themselves. However, other challenges can complicate communication.

For example, some children seem to have nothing to say. Indeed, even children of school age can have difficulty answering a vague question, such as: “What did you do today?” Instead, ask your child: “Who did you play with at school today?” or “What was your favourite activity in class?”  Ask open-ended questions instead of yes or no questions. If your child cannot remember what happened during the day, help them by asking about specific times. For example, ask: “What games did you play during recess?” To inspire them, you can start by telling them about your day.

Your child may sometimes not find the words to express how they feel. A good alternative to help them do so is to play with them. Your child could talk about their concerns through their dolls and figurines or by drawing something that happened during the day. Playing allows them to step back from a situation that is concerning them and to explore solutions. Playing with your child also makes them feel you are listening to them, which helps them relieve stress.

Still, some children may refuse any contact and remain distant. To avoid this type of situation, make sure to set aside time for your child. Indeed, a child can become withdrawn when they fear disturbing a parent who is often absent. If you show your child that you are available, they will know they can come to you. Set aside a time in the evening when the whole family must spend time together.

Tips to improve communication with your child

  • When you talk to your child, make sure that they feel involved in the discussion. Adopting a position that allows you to be at eye level may be helpful with some children. Your child should feel that this discussion is just as important to you.
  • Talk with your child about their fields of interest. Show them that their opinions and interests matter to you.
  • Spend quality family time doing various activities. Your child will feel they are an important part of the family. In turn, they will be more willing to talk with you.
Sometimes, simply spending time with your child is enough to establish a connection. Silent empathy can be comforting. A gentle touch and a hug are other ways of communicating.
  • If your child is frustrated, show them that you are listening by using words like “Oh!,” “Ah?,” or “Really!”  This encourages your child to explore their thoughts and feelings to find solutions, and provides time to sort out their problem on their own.
  • Show your child that their emotions are normal and acknowledge how a situation may affect them. Describe the emotions they seem to be experiencing: “I see this has really upset you!” Identifying your child’s emotions is comforting to them. If they are unable to do so, use images to help them.
  • When your child comes to you with a problem they experienced during the day, invite them to explore solutions with you. If they cannot find any, you can help them find one, all without judgment.
  • Rephrase in your own words what your child has just said to make sure you understand.
  • If your child seems reluctant to answer your questions, start by formulating your opinion and let your child open up to you at their own pace. If they are not receptive to a face-to-face discussion, you can talk while playing a board game or taking a walk outside.
  • If your child asks you a question, do not be too quick to provide an answer. Ask them what they think first. This will allow you to learn more about what your child already knows about the subject.
  • If you do not have the answer or do not know how to say it, this is normal. You can tell your child that this is a good question, and that you will think it over and discuss it later. This will buy you time to find an appropriate answer.

If, despite your attempts, it seems your child still has difficulty communicating, you may contact a competent professional to provide assistance in your parenting.

 

Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Ariane Leroux-Boudreault, psychologist
Research and copywriting:
The Naître et grandir team
May 2021

 

Photo: iStock.com/PeopleImages

 

Useful links and resources

Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.

  • BEAULIEU, Danie. 100 trucs pour améliorer vos relations avec les enfants. Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2010, 64 pp.
  • CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION. Communicating with Your Child.www.cdc.gov
  • FABER, Adele and Elaine MAZLISH. Parler pour que les enfants écoutent, écouter pour que les enfants parlent. 2nd ed., Aux Éditions du Phare, 2012, 408 pp.
  • FERLAND, Francine. Pour parents débordés en manque d’énergie. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2006, 136 pp.
  • FILLIOZAT, Isabelle. « Il me cherche! » : comprendre ce qui se passe dans son cerveau entre 6 et 11 ans. Éditions JC Lattès, 2014.
  • KIDSHEALTH. Communication and Your 6- to 12-Year-Old.kidshealth.org
  • JULIEN, Gilles. Aide-moi à te parler : la communication parent-enfant. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2004, 144 pp.
  • LAVIGUEUR, Suzanne. Ces parents à bout de souffle. Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2012.
  • PARENT, Nathalie. La famille et les parents d’aujourd’hui : la communication entre parents et enfants. Les Éditions Québecor, 2008, 180 pp.
  • CARING FOR KIDS. Canadian Paediatric Society. How to talk with your teen. 2011. www.soinsdenosenfants.cps.ca

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