Father and son (teaser)

Good communication with children helps them develop the building blocks for language development. It also improves your bond and encourages them to talk with and listen to you.

Here are tips from Boys Town Pediatrics on how to talk to your child.

1. Be sure to have an interactive conversation. If a conversation is not engaging, children will tune it out. For toddlers and preschoolers, limiting conversations to a couple sentences allows a child to absorb information and respond better, too. Additionally, offering a one-sentence answer to a question may be much more effective than a long explanation. Children often like simple, direct answers. The length of conversational exchanges with school-age children can gradually increase over the years. Allow children space to respond and share their thoughts and opinions. Ask open-ended questions to engage children, such as “Why do you think that lightening bug glows?” or “Why do you think that dog is barking?”

2. Listen to your child. Taking the time to listen to children, and even kneeling down to be on their level, encourages them and lets them know they are being heard. Asking specific questions not only helps you gather more information and increase understanding, but tells your child you are listening.

3. Consider your child’s opinion. Children want to feel their opinion matters. Taking the time to see a situation from your child’s point of view will help your conversation with him and improve your understanding of the situation and his feelings. Give children a chance to explain themselves, even if they are wrong. Letting them explain first helps you better respond to their reasoning, especially if what they thought was understandable, but not correct.

4. Imagine solutions together. Children love to imagine. Engaging with their imagination is a great way to discuss possibilities and help develop problem-solving skills. If a child complains, ask him/her to suggest improvements to the situation. The use of this dialogue encourages discussion of not only the problem, but also the solution.

5. Remember you are talking to a developing child. Be sure to offer limited choices, which gives a child a sense of power and control. Instead of saying, “What would you like to eat? Peas, Green Beans, Broccoli, etc?” say “Do you want green beans or broccoli?” Additionally, listen to your tone instead of words. Children will often pay more attention to body language and tone instead of words. Being mindful of your tone will facilitate better conversations. Finally, keep conversations age-appropriate. Use language and discuss topics that are appropriate for your child’s age and development. Follow your child’s lead in play and discuss his or her interests.

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Amy Tyler-Krings is a research assistant in the Infant Language Development Laboratory for the Boys Town National Research Hospital. Read more about Tyler-Krings here.

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