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How to communicate with children: How to get it right for you and their benefit in 5 simple steps

The evidence is overwhelming: a strong relationship with your child benefits you and them, both now and in the future and at the heart of any strong relationship is good quality communication. Yet, too often despite our best efforts we blow it with our kids, feel paralysed with what to say next and wish we knew a different way.  We are here to help, though. Here, we offer 5 simple steps to follow to get it right for you and them, for if you can get communication right at home early on, it forms a template for successful relationships for your child in their future. And, as a bonus, family life will be far more enjoyable too. heck out our 5 tips for how to communicate with children to help get it right from the start.

This is a guest post for KiddyCharts from the authors of a book designed to help you communicate better with your children; as a parents, teacher, or just generally.

How to have incredible conversations with your child
by Jane Gilmour and Bettina Hohnen

This book does exactly what it says on the tin! It is there to help you to improve the ways that you communicate with your child. Starting, as it always should do, by really, really listening to what your children are saying to you.

Don’t make it about YOU. That’s the most important lesson when we listen to our children. To find out the rest, read the book!

Jane Gilmour and Bettina Hohnen are clinical psychologists and academics with a specialist interest in neuropsychology.

See their instagram page @incredibleconversations for more info.

Step 1: First job, tune in.

Work out what they want and how they feel and you are halfway there. Kids are still learning about their desires and how to communicate them to others and benefit from having a parent working it out with them. Remember all behaviour is communication, so if your child seems grumpy or is acting out, you may need to let them know they have stepped over a limit but also try to understand what is really going on. Your expectations may get in the way here so leave them at the door while you read the room. As you show interest, so will they and you are handing them one of the greatest tools for well-being for life – self-understanding. If you need to communicate something you know won’t go down well, tune in by picking your time and location carefully. The trickiest subjects are often best managed on a walk or a drive, where eye contact can be avoided and everyone knows there is a clearly marked end point.

Step 2: Next make sure you listen first, then talk –  two ears, one mouth.

Listening with genuine curiosity is a secret skill of the super-communicator because everyone wants to be heard. Start by listening to their view, truly listening. This means allowing them time to talk, putting your phone away and radiating the idea that what they think matters. You may not agree with everything you hear, but that’s ok, listening to something is not the same as agreeing with it. When it’s time for you to talk, remember to keep it short and to the point (no-one responds well to a lecture). Set aside time for regular conversation in your family schedule and look after those spontaneous moments too. Every time you offer a warm, consistent, open dialogue consider that an intervention, for your connection and communication toolkit just got stronger.

Step 3: How to communicate with children – Catch the emotions

Emotions are always nearby when we communicate with others, particularly those we love, so knowing how to catch emotions is important for communication success (by the way we also believe it is the key to parenting success). Calm brains communicate best so if big emotions show up, it’s time to take a different tact. If your child is upset or resistant then that itself is a communication and what they need from you in that moment is to acknowledge their feeling, even put a name to it if they can’t, and wait while the snowflakes settle. A touch of empathy will serve you well as their emotional brain will settle more quickly. However hard it is, try not to let your protective instincts get the better of you by responding with alarm or advice, that just breaks the connection.  If your emotions are taking hold, take a step back. When communicating with children (whose brains are still developing), the adult takes the greatest share of responsibility to overcome their own challenges and manage our strong emotions. Feelings are at the heart of the most difficult conversations, so if you are feeling hurt by what someone did or unloved and unappreciated, take a step back, talk it through with an adult and come back and try again later.

Step 4: Talk about the tough stuff – don’t flinch

One sure way to strengthen communication with your child is to be open to talking about whatever they bring you. This communicates that all feelings are acceptable and teaches them to express them in a shared and pro-social way. Your message is that nothing is off the table, bring all your worries and your mistakes home. Make space for conversation, and your child will learn that family is a safe place to think anything through, together. Resist the temptation to correct and never make them feel ashamed, for we all do and say things we regret at times. Conversation is an incredible tool to work difficult things out.

Step 5: Repeat, repeat, repeat

The brain learns through repetition so the more we do anything the better we become at it (remember when your child learned to ride a bike) and communication skills are no different. Be patient, keep showing up and practice hard.  Communication skills take time to learn and if you have a reluctant participant, expect little at first and build on it. Make conversation a family habit at a meal, on a walk or in the car. Not every conversation will go well and that’s normal. Take a breather and come back stronger again, again and again and then congratulate yourself for having another go.

We think these ideas are great from Betina and Jane, and really help us to engage with our children and really listen and understand the emotions and situations that they are in an reacting to. Let us know how you get on.

If you are looking for other ideas around communicating with your children, we have more tips on the site, particularly around active listening:

Further help communicating with your kids from KiddyCharts

Here are some more thoughts and ideas on how to.improve communication with your kids, including improving your listening skills.

There are other articles out there that might give you more suitable advice too. Take a look at these as well:

Communication articles from the internet

More articles on communicating with your kids from off KiddyCharts.

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Helen is a mum to two, social media consultant, and website editor; and this site is (we think) the only Social Enterprise parenting magazine! Since giving up being a business analyst when juggling travel, work and kids proved too complicated, she founded KiddyCharts so she could be with her kids, and use those grey cells at the same time. KiddyCharts has reach of over 1.1million across social and the site. The blog works with big family brands (including travel) to help promote their services, as well as offering free resources to parents of kids under 10. It gives 51%+ profits to Reverence for Life, who fund a number of important initiatives in Africa, including bringing running water and basic equipment to a school in Tanzania. Helen has worked as a digital marketing consultant (IDM qualified) with various organisations, including Channel Mum, Truprint, Talk to Mums, and Micro Scooters. She loves to be creative in the brand campaigns she works on. Get in touch TODAY!

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