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Practical skills to help your child communicate

Jaimie Bloch

Jaimie Bloch

Jaimie Bloch is a leading child and family Clinical Psychologist and the Director of MindMovers Psychology. Jaimie uses her flair for creativity to encompass both holistic and evidence-based approaches that are simple to understand, practical and easily implemented. Jaimie is an expert in developing programs and psychological materials for schools, corporations,...
Created on Sep 26, 2023 · 4 mins read
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Raising young children and toddlers can often lead to feelings of stress and chaos, with a seemingly endless list of tasks to complete. It can be especially challenging when faced with a meltdown from an emotionally charged child – as often there is no time to help your child communicate what is upsetting them before they explode.

In these moments, it’s natural to wish for a simpler solution, such as your child being able to express themselves clearly and calmly. It’s not uncommon to find ourselves in situations where our child is crying, hyperventilating, or behaving aggressively, without any clear explanation of what’s wrong. In those moments, our primary focus is on understanding the problem and providing the necessary support to help our child.

Most parents have used the phrase “use your words”, only for the melt-down to continue and to escalate. Let me stress that there is NOTHING wrong with using the phrase ‘use your words’, but does it achieve our goal of helping our child communicate what’s really wrong? Most of the time no.

When we use the phrase, “use your words” this implies that our child knows what to say and the exact words to use. Your child may or may not know what to say. They might know what to say but when they are upset, they struggle to formulate a sentence in that moment.

Encouraging children to communicate effectively is an important part of their development. However, simply telling them to “use their words” may not be the most effective approach. In fact, this phrase can be counterproductive and even trigger negative emotions for children who are already struggling to express themselves.

Encouraging children to communicate effectively is an important part of their development. However, simply telling them to “use their words” may not be the most effective approach. In fact, this phrase can be counterproductive and even trigger negative emotions for children who are already struggling to express themselves.

Your child may not have these words in their vocabulary yet or have an emotional understanding developed to know what all those weird feelings inside mean

When children are faced with big emotions or difficulties in communication, the demand to “use their words” can feel overwhelming and cause even more frustration. It’s similar to when adults are told to “calm down” during a difficult conversation – it can be dismissive and unhelpful.

To better support children in developing their communication skills, it’s important to be specific and offer them guidance. For instance, instead of telling them to “use their words,” you could ask open-ended questions, actively listen to their responses, and help them identify and label their emotions. By doing so, you are providing a supportive and safe environment for your child to learn and grow their communication skills.

When we use new phrases or words to support our children develop communication skills, we are not excusing their behaviour, instead, we are modelling, guiding, acknowledging and teaching them what to do next time.

Instead of “use your words”, try:

  • It’s not ok to hit me. Mummy/daddy doesn’t understand what you need when you do that. Please tell me or point to what you need.
  • I can see you need space. I am just over here and I am here when you need me. But mummy/daddy can’t understand you when you are screaming so I will wait for you to be calmer.
  • I can see you are feeling really (emotion). It is so hard to feel like that. That was really disappointing (frustrating, scary, sad etc); it’s OK to cry. Mummy/daddy loves you. I am here to help you.

In conclusion, helping children communicate their feelings is an essential aspect of their development, and it can have a significant impact on their mental and emotional well-being. Encouraging children to express themselves in a healthy and effective manner can foster stronger relationships, increase their self-esteem, and help them navigate challenging situations with greater ease.

To support children in communicating their feelings, it’s important to create a safe and open environment where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions. This can involve actively listening to their concerns, validating their feelings, and providing them with guidance and support.

Furthermore, it’s essential to use age-appropriate strategies that take into account the child’s developmental stage and abilities. This can involve using simple language, visual aids, or creative methods such as storytelling or role-playing.

Finally, it’s crucial to model healthy communication skills by demonstrating active listening, empathy, and effective problem-solving strategies. Children often learn by example, so modeling these skills can have a significant impact on their own communication skills.

Overall, helping children communicate their feelings is a vital aspect of their growth and development, and by providing them with the necessary support and tools, we can help them navigate the complex world of emotions with greater confidence and ease.

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