Speak to children at their level

Speak to children at their level

The other day I was relaxing at the local pool when I witnessed a really special event that unfolded in front of me.

A young man was sitting in the hot tub with his 5 year old son. It was obvious they had a really special relationship as they chatted in the warm water.dad and boy at pool

While they chatted, the son said that he wanted to go down the water slide. A young lady who was a life guard overheard the conversation and told the boy that the slide would be open in about ten minutes.

The boy appreciated what the life guard said but had a very puzzled look on his face.

His dad, immediately understanding what was going on, turned to the boy and said to him “You know how to count to 100 right?”

The boy nodded and his dad continued. “If you count to 100 six times, the slide will be open.”

Immediately the boy’s face lit up. He now understood how long it would be until the slide opened. The conversation continued until the required time passed and the dad took the boy over to the slide.

It was a very simple situation that went well. However, if the dad was not so well versed in understanding how to communicate with his son; it could have gone very wrong.

This situation is a perfect example of a major challenge parents face in raising children that I feel many do not recognize or know how to deal with.

Language is a learned process. Children learn to speak the native tongue of their parents by listening and interacting with them. If this was not true, children would create their own language!parent and child talking1

Learning a language and comprehending the concept of what has been said is a gradual process that unfolds over many years. Therefore, when parents speak to their children, it is essential that they understand the level of comprehension their children are at in their development.

One of the big problems that occurs when parents don’t understand this very important aspect of parenting, communication between parent and child can become ineffective even to the point of creating trauma and hostility between the parties. A definite lose-lose situation!

An example I witnessed a while ago went down like this:

A woman was walking down a very steep street near where I lived at the time. She was pushing a stroller with one child while a young boy walked at her side.

All of a sudden, the boy began running ahead of his mom. The street was not busy but, being a big city, the situation could easily change. The mom realized this and started yelling at the boy “Stop”. Stop”. She kept yelling but the boy kept going.

The boy finally stopped and turned back to face his mom with a very quizzical look in his face. What his mom did not understand was that what she was speaking at too high of a level for the child.

The boy did not understand what “stop” meant.

What made the situation worse was that the mom had let her emotions get out of control. She felt afraid and projected that fear to her son. Now her son felt that he had let his mom down because he understood that the way she was speaking to him told him that he had done something wrong (but did not understand what). This did nothing for his confidence! It did nothing to enhance their relationship.

child and parent talking 3When parents speak with their children, it is absolutely essential that they need to speak to them at a level the child understands. This does not mean treating them like babies, it means recognizing what their cognitive level is so the parent can communicate appropriately.

Another aspect that is important for parents to understand and implement is that all forms of sound and body language that a child produces are forms of communication.

It is very challenging to be “thrown into” parenthood even if it is well planned out. The requirements of effective parenting are beyond the present knowledge of most people as they begin the journey of being mom and dad. However, if the parents are mature enough and capable of staying quiet and present in trying times, they will soon learn to understand the language the baby is using to communicate its needs.

Progress in building relationships with children absolutely requires the adult being able to learn to understand how communication works at the child’s level. It cannot be the other way!

The next step in developing functional and positive communication with a child comes as the child starts to form concepts and express them. When a child does not have language skills adequate to express their needs, they resort to whatever method they are capable of. This often includes screaming, crying and acting out physically.

When the parent understands that what is considered “acting out” is a form of communication, they can stop the child from acting in this manner by assisting the child in expressing themselves in a more acceptable, functional and understandable manner.

For example, a young couple I know who I consider to be masters of parenting were very good at this concept. When their daughter would start acting out by screaming or crying, they would squat down to her level and very quietly but assertively tell her “It is important to me to understand you so please use your words.” Then they would wait quietly for her to stop. This would take a minute or so, and then she would tell them in English what she wanted.child and parent talking 2

By being consistent with this training, the child eventually recognized that “acting out” was not an effective way of communicating. She then would automatically “Use her words”.

The most important aspect I would like to leave you with about communicating with your children is this—

You are in charge of how your child will communicate. You can let them learn how to communicate on their own so you can both struggle or you can start right from the start when they are born and consistently work at helping them to communicate in a manner that builds confidence and love.

It is your choice.