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The Power of Words: How to Speak to Your Child

ages 0 - 6 months ages 11 years - 18 years ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years communication Feb 07, 2024


Imagine this scenario: You're sitting in a cozy coffee shop, engrossed in a book, when suddenly someone approaches you and starts shouting demands.  How would you feel?  Most likely, you would feel startled, disrespected, and perhaps even defensive.  Now, let's shift our focus to our children.  How we speak to them matters just as much, if not more.  In fact, Communication is an entire category in my 5 C’s parenting framework (learn more - link to episode 35).  In this blog, we'll explore why it's important for parents to be mindful of how they speak to their children and provide practical tips on effective communication that can strengthen your bond with your child.


Mindful Communication - The Key to Building Strong Relationships

As parents, we play a crucial role in shaping our children's emotional well-being and their ability to navigate relationships.  Mindful communication is the key to building strong relationships with our children.  By being mindful of how we speak to them, we create a foundation of trust, respect, and understanding.  This not only strengthens our relationship with them but also teaches them how to communicate effectively with others.


Take a moment to think about the way that you like to be spoken to.  Now think about the way that you speak to people, from how you speak to the check-out clerk at the grocery store to the way that you speak to the people you love most in your life, like your best friend.  I do my best to be polite and show respect to all people in my life, just as I hope they will do with me.  And I put extra effort into being mindful of how I speak to the ones I love most in this world.  My family makes fun of me because every time I speak to my best friend, I get excited, my voice raises an octave with glee, and I can’t help smiling even if we’re talking on the phone - that’s the result of decades of thoughtful and loving interactions.


Your children may not always speak to you the way that you would like to be spoken to.  This is a big component of what makes the day-to-day experience of parenting challenging.  Whether you’re dealing with whining and tantrums at younger ages or moodiness and curtness during the teen years, your children are still learning to communicate in a socially desirable way on a consistent basis, and it’s your job to help teach them that important life skill.  So, you have to be very mindful of how you speak to your children, taking into consideration your tone, volume, and word choice.  With patience and practice, one day, you and your child will have interactions that resemble those with your best friend.


Calm, Clear, and Caring - Your Guide to Effective Communication

When you’re happily playing with your child outside or engrossed in a project together inside, it’s easy to communicate with them.  It’s when they get frustrated, overwhelmed, or defiant that it gets tough to choose your words mindfully.  To help guide parents in their communication with their children, I introduce the phrase "calm, clear, and caring."  These three words serve as a reminder to communicate effectively, even when our children are showing us some of their worst behavior and definitely not communicating with us in an ideal way.


Calm: When we approach our children with a calm demeanor, we create a safe and nurturing environment for open communication.  We stay grounded for them because their developing brains are struggling to manage their big emotions.  Taking a deep breath and managing our own emotions before speaking allows us to respond rather than react, fostering a more positive and constructive conversation.


Clear: Children thrive on clarity and consistency.  Using clear and concise language helps them understand our expectations and requests.  Avoiding vague or ambiguous instructions reduces confusion and frustration, allowing them to respond more effectively.  For example, “I know it’s difficult, but I said we cannot buy anything at the gift shop today.  We must walk through quickly on our way out of the museum.”


Caring: Showing care and empathy in our words and tone of voice helps our children feel heard and understood.  It lets them know that their thoughts and feelings matter.  By modeling caring communication, we teach them the importance of empathy and compassion in their own interactions.  This means avoiding statements like, “Because I said so” or “Stop complaining about it.”


The Power of Concise Speech

Children have limited attention spans and may struggle to process lengthy explanations.  They benefit from short, concise, and direct speech when we make requests or give them directions.  Using simple and age-appropriate language helps them grasp the message more easily.  Avoiding long explanations or lectures can prevent them from becoming overwhelmed or tuning out.  Remember, less is often more when it comes to effective communication with our little ones.


When they’re feeling overwhelmed, kids can have a hard time understanding our words and may need our help gathering their attention and truly hearing what we say.  You might calmly say, “Look at me.  We have to go now.  Please put your shoes on now.”  Compare that to saying something like, “Hey, sweetie, we really need to get going.  How about you come over and put your shoes on so we can get out of the house?  OK?”  Both options are said in a calm and caring way, but the first option is much more clear and direct.  If you’re in a rush or frustrated by dilly-dallying behavior, you want to use the first approach to have more effective communication with your child.


The No-Yelling Zone

Yelling at our children can have long-lasting negative effects on their emotional well-being.  It can lead to feelings of fear, insecurity, and low self-esteem.  Instead, let's strive to create a no-yelling zone in our homes.  When we feel ourselves getting frustrated or angry, taking a step back, and finding alternative ways to express our emotions can make a world of difference.  Deep breathing, counting to ten, or even stepping outside for a moment can help us regain our composure and approach the situation with a calmer mindset.


My kids’ preschool teacher had an excellent way of describing when it’s appropriate to yell at your children.  She said you want your kid to listen when you yell at them to stop because they’re about to walk into the street.  I love that concept because if you strive to always speak to your child in a calm, clear, and caring way, then your yelling would really stand out in an emergency.


There’s also an in-between area that I call my stern tone.  When my children’s behavior is really pushing my buttons, and they’re having a hard time respecting my request to be quieter, stop badgering, stop bickering, etc., I clearly tell them that I am feeling very frustrated and having a hard time staying calm.  Like pretty much every parent, I have been pushed past that limit and raised my voice, which feels bad for me and for them.  They now know that nobody wants that, and if I say that I am on the edge, they really want to start shaping up.  I’m not saying you should lose your cool to teach your kids this stern tone, but if you’ve ever struggled with losing your cool with your kids, this is an option for you.


The Family Meeting Solution 

If, after reading these tips, you realize that your household communication style could use an overhaul, don't worry!  I've got you covered.  I've created a free downloadable resource that provides tips on how to hold Family Meetings.  These meetings can get everyone on board with changes that affect the whole family.  It's a great way to foster open communication, problem-solving, and understanding among family members.  By creating a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts and concerns, you can work together to improve your family's communication dynamics.  Let the kids know that you want to make an intentional focus on how you all speak to each other.  Talk about the benefits for everyone in terms of creating a more pleasant home environment.  And set clear goals (e.g., I will not raise my voice again.  I will take a deep breath before speaking when angry or tell you I need a minute alone in the other room to cool down).  Just be sure to show yourself some grace; change takes time.  If you have a slip-up, let your kids know that you are aware you fell short of your goal but that you want to keep working at it and will try harder.


Take-Home Message

The way we speak to our children has a profound impact on their development and the quality of our relationship with them.  By being mindful of our words, using the "calm, clear, and caring" approach, and avoiding yelling, we can create a positive and nurturing environment for our children to grow and thrive.  Remember, effective communication is a lifelong skill that we can teach our children through our own actions.  Are there any changes you’d like to make in the way you communicate with your children today?  If so, state a clear goal, hold a family meeting, if needed, and get to work building a stronger relationship through better communication today!


Intentional communication falls under the Communication category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (click here to learn more about the 5 C’s - link to episode 35).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Thanks for joining me to fill your parenting toolbox with psychology-based tools to feel more confident and capable in your parenting.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!


P.S. You’re going to love my free resource on how to hold Family Meetings.  Snag that today and start transforming your household communication.  Together, let's build stronger connections with our children, one word at a time.


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Amazing parenting is not about always saying
and doing the right thing and raising perfect children.  It’s about becoming intentional in your parenting and proactive in learning skills to help you parent more effectively in a way that fits best for your unique parent-child dynamics.

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