Adults often become frustrated when communicating with young children.
Parents and teachers often ask me, “Are we really communicating? Do they understand me? Do I truly understand them?”
Children, especially young children, are still learning to use words. Their communication skills are relatively new. Language may be the last piece added as a child solves the puzzle of communications.
Learning words and sentences are a much harder skill set than mimicry or gesturing.
Parents usually understand their infant’s needs from the baby’s facial expression, or the tone of his or her cry.
Later, adults see clearer nonverbal communication in children, and encourage them. For example, most young parents learn quickly what the “wee wee” dance looks like, and rush to help the child to the bathroom.
For a young child, it can be easier to use body language or display emotions, than to try to find the right words. For a toddler, language can be an onerous, intellectually consuming thought process.
The problem is compounded if the child is constantly corrected with “constructive” criticism such as, “No, that word is pronounced…,” or “Didn’t you mean to say…?”
Even as adults, we’re sometimes at a loss for the right words. In an emotionally or physically overwhelming situation, words can fail us. For a young child trying to communicate, that can be a daily struggle.
Many young learners have difficulties with the nuances of language. For example, “too” and “two” sound alike but mean different things. Likewise, your tone of voice when saying, “Oh, great,” can completely change the intent of the words. Your facial expression – trying to keep a straight face while reprimanding a child — can increase your communication difficulties with children.
Young children are puzzling out how words are used and what they mean in different settings. However, until they think that they have it right, they may be reluctant to use words.
In recent years, we’ve seen great inroads in working with childhood communication difficulties. Some communication options for children include a sign language for preverbal children. This builds their communication skills and confidence while they’re learning to use words.
Keep these tips in mind when communicating with children of all ages:
1. Always speak in an age appropriate way to a child.
2. Never confuse that with speaking down or condescendingly. Children will know/sense it.
3. Look for all the different ways the child is communicating. This may include changes in habits. He or she may use drawings or doodles to express emotions. Or, you may notice increased sensitivity or withdrawal.
4. If it is safer for them to speak through an imaginary friend or stuff animal, allow them to so. Listen when a child says, “My friend Johnny says…,” or “Kitty-cat doesn’t like…”
5. Don’t try to rush communications, or push a child to talk until he or she is ready to.
6. Before talking with your child, always make sure you are in a loving, receptive mood. Never judge. Use every opportunity to teach your child how to think, not what to think.
It’s normal to feel frustrated when communicating with young children. It doesn’t mean that either of you have a communication disorder. By understanding the communication challenges that young children face, you can find ways to talk, verbally and nonverbally.
With patience and creativity on both sides, you and your child can overcome most communication difficulties. A counselor or mediator can help, if necessary, but practice, patience and understanding can be effective first steps.