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How to Talk to Little Kids: 7 Suggestions That Will Help You Communicate!

I enjoy making words, both on the page and with my mouth. For example, at the end of a good movie nothing pleases me more than grabbing a drink with a friend and running on at great lengths about what I just saw; what I liked, what I hated, what surprised me — I could go on, but I’m sure you’re reading me loud and clear. Talk = good.

The problem when talking to a little kid, especially a language learner, is how to do it in a way that they’ll understand you. Nothing frustrates me more than not being heard!

Of course, part of a child’s job description is not listening to parents. I say don’t hit someone, and it lacks the impact of a strange adult on the playground saying the same thing. But this goes even beyond rules and proper behavior. I try to explain how rain forms, only to find that my son stopped listening the moment I said the word precipitation, but he didn’t tell me. He just nodded and pretended to be following along, tuning me out all the while.

I tell ya — kids. Can’t live with him, and yet you’re legally bound to until they turn eighteen.

Part of the problem, I’ve learned, is me. (Of course, my wife would say.) But over the past four years of living with a little one, I’ve learned how to talk in ways that my son will hear. He might not heed me, but he’ll at least understand what I’m talking about, usually. (And I’ve become attuned to when he’s not picking something up.)

Here are seven tips that will help you communicate to your little ones, so hopefully you won’t find talking to children as frustrating as I used to.

  • LISTEN UP! 1 of 8
    lead off

    Click on for 7 tips on how to talk so your kids will hear you...

  • ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS 2 of 8
    actions speak louder

    First, don't just talk — act. Use your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and your eyes to communicate. Put your whole body into it! Seriously, don't be afraid to use jazz hands for punctuation, or mime to get your point across. Kids only pick up a small percentage of what you're saying, the majority of communication happens through your body language.

     

    Also, make sure that your actions match your words. If you're reprimanding your kid with a smile on your face then guess what? That smile is going to undermine the message you're delivering in your speech.

  • MAKE EYE CONTACT 3 of 8
    eye contact

    Don't just speak at your kids' heads, or their backs, or talk with your face down while doing dishes, especially not if you're explaining something or giving instructions. Get down to their level and look them in the eye. When communicating something important, you might even want to capture their attention with contact. Touch their shoulder. Place a hand on their back to draw them in. Take their hand. Give them your full attention.

  • LESS IS MORE 4 of 8
    less is more

    Remember back to childhood when adults would drone on and on about the most boring things in the world? Like yeah, I get it, I need to study more on my tests. Or turn the water off while I'm brushing my teeth. I don't need a twenty minute monologue on the subject, and what's more, I'm not going to listen to one. I'm just going to space out and say "yeah, yeah," in the appropriate spots.

     

    Keep that in mind, eh?

     

    A simple "no" or "stop" or "don't hit" gets the job done much more effectively.

  • KEEP IT SIMPLE 5 of 8
    keep it simple

    We all want to teach our kids new words, but when you're trying to communicate something important — a rule, or a concept, or a moral lesson — speak at their level. Try to use words that they already know, and don't use long complex sentences either. Mimic their speech, and give them the message in a way that they're going to hear it.

  • REPEAT REPEAT REPEAT 6 of 8
    repeat

    If you are introducing a new vocabulary word, expect your child's going to need some time to grasp the definition, and you might end up repeating the definition a few times before they get it. That's normal. Your kid might be testing to see that the definition hasn't changed. Just like reading a favorite book again and again, kids like to be reminded that what they know is, in fact, still what they know.  

  • SILENCE CAN BE GOLDEN 7 of 8
    silence golden

    Remember, with all this talk of talk, silence is important too. Sometimes kids require a few moments to gather their words. Slow down the pace of your conversation and don't rush your child to be snappy with answers. Great minds need time to think!

  • REALLY TALK WITH YOUR KIDS 8 of 8
    really talk

    Don't just talk at them. Give them plenty of opportunities to practice their language. Ask open-ended questions that focus on why and how, don't simply require them to regurgitate knowledge or facts. Remember, our thoughts are in many ways structured by our language — we think in words — and our language reflects how we think. Ask your children to think deep and give them the space to do so!

     

    The author is indebted to Growing Child: Grandma Says for some of the ideas in this piece.

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