Here is an assortment of talking tips, tricks, and techniques that will improve your communication skills as a parent. These suggestions will work differently in different situations, so freely experiment with each one to get an idea of what works best with your own children.
Communication skill #1: Think out loud
Try thinking out loud in front of your child. Say something like, “I need to think about what is the best way to help you remember to put your toys away.” Not only does this buy you extra time in deciding how to handle a situation (as well as a cool down period if you’re heated), but it lets your child see the thinking behind your demands, as opposed to just the demands themselves or the punishment that follows non-compliance.
The simple statement listed above lets your child know the reasoning behind your demands and the goal you want to reach. It also reinforces the rule (put your toys away) in the form of an indirect question. This can work better than a blatant command, which kids may be inclined to ignore simply on principle. Some kids may even assist you with an answer: “It would help me remember if . . .” Sometimes they’ll even do what your wanting without your having to ask directly. Leave the room briefly, and they may put their stuff away while you’re thinking.
Communication skill #2: Narrating
Narrating a child’s behavior is a skill that serves multiple purposes. It’s also extremely easy to do. Simply describe what you see a child doing at the time:
“I see that you’ve built yourself a big fort using the couch cushions.”
“It looks like you found an interesting new way to use mommy’s make-up.”
“What do we have here? Looks like someone is spending a lot of time with the Legos. What is it you’ve built?”
Doing this will express interest in your child while creating many new opportunities for an extended conversation. If the kids are involved in something you don’t like, it also invites them to tell you what they are doing so that you can calm down and discover their logic.
It also works well for discipline purposes. Rather than the usual regime of telling kids to stop or scolding them for misbehavior, simply narrate the situation and the problem in a firm and authoritative voice:
It looks to me like you two are running in the house. Is that what I see?
I see that you’re about to hit your sister with that toy, which would make me very sad. I would reconsider that action, unless you want to find yourself removed from playtime.
I can see that you’re having fun, but it looks like there are blocks scattered all about the room. What can we do to get this room looking a little less chaotic again?
Narrating what you see like this gets the child to stop and think about what they’re doing, which is often all that is needed to correct it. It’s a good way to get children to pay attention and modify their behavior without using forceful commands.
Communication skill #3: Invoke curiosity
Start your conversation with the phrase: “I’m curious about something …” Or “Hmm … this is odd. It looks like … Now all the kids wonder what you’re curious about. It’s a way to grab their attention and get them listening.
It can also be used to instruct your children in a more roundabout way: “Hmm…I’m curious as to why you would think it’s okay . . .” or “I wonder how that could have ended up there?”
More Advanced Talking Skills & Techniques for Parents
Talking skill #1: Agree with the child . . . on your terms
Instead of responding to a child’s request by saying “no,” which may trigger a tantrum or other negative response, give a positive reply. If kids ask, “Mommy, can I have a cookie?” say “Of course you can – right after you eat dinner.” Or if they ask to watch TV, say “Of course you can – right after you’ve finished picking up your toys” or “right after you’ve played outside for an hour.” Simply by reframing your response in an agreeable way like this you can completely alter the way a child responds to the situation.
Talking skill #2: Guide through suggestion
Rather than telling kids to do something, present what you would like to occur in the form of a suggestion:
- What do you suppose would happen if . . .
- Why don’t you try starting with the bottom button and see how it works that way.
- It might be better if . . .
- A different idea might be to . . .
Talking technique #3: State facts rather than issuing commands
Children don’t like being told what to do any more than you do, and commanding them to do something makes them want to exercise their free will by rebelling against what you tell them to do. One way to avoid this is to instead restate your command as a set of facts:
Rather than saying “Jenny, sit still on your seat now,” say something like, “Jennifer, it’s hard for me to teach when children don’t stay seated on their bottom.”
If a child leaves food out, rather than barking at them to put it away, explain to them that “milk spoils when it’s left out.”
Instead of telling kids to “stop touching everything,” explain that “those things are delicate and we need to respect other people’s belongings by not putting our hands all over them.”
Don’t say, “Fasten your seat belt right now.” Try a statement like, “Riding in a car without your seatbelt on is both dangerous and illegal, and therefore I refuse to drive this car until you’re buckled in.”
Rather than saying “You’re making a big mess of everything! Clean this up now!” Say “We have company coming over, and I need the house to be presentable.”
Now you try. Rework the following commands into a set of facts on a scratch piece of paper.
- Mark, stop hitting your brother.
- Don’t touch that stove.
- Stay in line.