Communicating Clearly with Children

communicating with childrenHave you ever had difficulty communicating with your children?

Ever been faced with a “blank stare” or “out-of-control” behavior that did not seem to fit as a reaction to you what said?

Is it possible that what you said is not EXACTLY what they heard?

Communicating Clearly With Children

Clear communication between parents and children includes more than parents just dictating directions and expecting children to follow them. Truly effective communication involves parents learning to speak with their children, instead of at them, and speaking with words that will have clear meaning for the children. While there are no clear rules for how to speak and with which phrases, parents can learn to look for cues from their children, have empathy for them and their growing minds, and to ask questions to help clarify communication.

It is not uncommon for parents to give directions to their children, and then find themselves repeating these direction over and over again, perhaps getting louder and louder each time. As the frustration grows for the parent who feels his child is not listening, a wall is creeping up between the communication abilities of the parent and child. If the child actually does hear the parent, understand what is being directed, and is simply ignoring the parent, then yelling at the child repeatedly only teaches the child that he does not have to really listen the first time, because Mom or Dad will just repeat it until they are very serious about it.

Another important point to remember is that children do not always hear the true meaning of what parents say to them. Their developing brains are not always at the same place as parents think them to be, and processing information does not occur as it might for adults. Parents need to have empathy for their children and understand that just because a child appears to not follow directions does not mean she is doing it willfully with defiant intentions. While it can be difficult to ascertain if the behavior is due to miscommunication or misconduct, parents can do several things to try to improve the situation before it escalates.


When a child is given a direction and does not follow it, parents should start by asking the child clear questions about the situation. Instead of simply asking, “Did you hear me?” parents should ask their children, “What did I ask you to do?” This can be done in a calm and pleasant way, where the child is just being asked to repeat back to the parent what is expected.

Children are very intuitive, but they are also very susceptible to confusing situations. At very young ages children can often be heard asking, “Why?”. They are constantly seeking out ways to put information together that is clear and makes sense to their developing minds. They try to draw conclusions where sometimes there are none, and they tend to base conclusions on their limited base of knowledge of how things have worked before. Even though a parent might feel he is giving a clear direction, the limited references the child has can muddle the situation.

Parents need to take responsibility for clear communication and begin by remembering that it is not a one way street. They should ask children to clarify what they feel are the expectations, even when they would appear fairly clear, and do so with empathy. Not much will be solved by repeating directions with louder voices and less nurturing. Instead, parents should focus on speaking with their children and asking them questions, therefor including them and their perspectives with the conversation.

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