The Educated Parent

A Communication Toolbox for Parents

Anybody else sometimes realize that our children really do hear mwa-mwa-mwa-mwa-mwa when you speak to them? I know my 2 year old doesn’t process half of my chit chat, but I thought I had an incredible listener in my 4 year old. As of late though we have been having some serious communication malfunctions. It has made me look through my communication toolbox and pull out some new tools. I assume, and kind of hope, a few of you are going through the mwa-mwa-mwa stage and might appreciate a new tool or two for your family.

Let me quickly explain the TOOL BOX idea.

This idea was taught to me in a child development class. My amazing teacher told me as a teacher or parent we all need a tool box full of tools when dealing with children. Inside this tool box there should be many tools that will help you teach, discipline, communicate and love your child. Most importantly, we must remember that not every child will be taught with the same tool. Maybe your first child learned very quickly when you used your ‘hammer’ but your second child laughs at you when you pull out the ‘hammer’. You must be ready to find a new tool that will work better with that child. Also remember one situation will easily be fixed with a ruler but that same ruler is useless in the next confrontation you and your child find yourselves in.

I LOVE this idea! I often hear myself thinking, okay, that tools didn’t work what else do I have. The whole idea of pulling out a specific tool I have used before, or learned about recently makes me feel a bit more empowered in a crazy or stressful parenting situation. Even my husband will say, “How come our screw driver is completely useless with this child!?” Hopefully analogy will help you look at these next few tips as empowering tools for your communication toolbox.

Here are some of my favorite ways to make communicating with your children go a bit more smoothly.

  • Get on their level – This was a tool I learned from teaching in a developmental preschool. My mentor asked me to always kneel or sit when I was talking to the children.  My first thought was ‘obnoxious’ but it only took a few days to see how affective it was.  When a child is struggling with a big emotion think of how much more empathy they will feel if you are kneeled down, talking eye to eye with them. When you are trying to give your child some important instructions think of how much more easily you can keep their attention when your are right in their space making eye contact.
  • Add a touch – This one is so simple, and hopefully natural. When talking to your children put your hand on their shoulder or arm to get and keep their attention. This just adds a physical connection while communicating. Sometimes that it is all it takes to make your communication more meaningful.
    • A tip I once learned along these is lines could help you with teaching your children not to interrupt. When you are mid sentence with a friend and your child comes up and starts the “mom, mom, mom” you simply put your hand on them and show them the one minute finger while finishing up your sentence. Then politely tell your friend, “one second” and ask your child what they need. The physical touch shows your child you know they are there and the one minute finger is telling them it is not quite their turn. I have used this with my 4 year old and it has been very effective with helping her not interrupt.
  • Ask for their eyes – I love this technique, it works for all ages, 1-husband…(I adore my husband but sometimes even he needs reminded for a little eye contact).
    • Here it is! You simply say your child’s name and then tell them you need their eyes. With my 2 year old I usually say, “Genevieve mommy needs to see your eyes.” Once your child is looking at you QUICKLY say what you need to say. (Especially with the younger age.) I have found that this lets my children know that what follows is important.
    • At the very least it is teaching my babes an important life skill. I use this technique with my children when they are in conversations with others, especially adults. If grandma is asking my oldest how school went I might remind her, “Evelynn Gammy needs to see your eyes, she’s asking you a question.” I want my children to grow up feeling comfortable making eye contact when being spoken to. I also use this communication tool when my daughter is telling me a story and it turns into a rambling distracted monolog. As she is staring at her sister eating food off the floor and trying to finish the worlds longest sentence I just say, “Hey I need your eyes when you are talking to me.” Hopefully this helps keep her focused.
    • This is one technique that is best used if mom and dad can model it for their children. If your child is speaking to you look away from the baby you are feeding, or the cell phone you are checking and give them your eyes, as much as possible
  • Have them repeat – I use this method for most any instruction for my 4 year old right now. I have noticed she isn’t following through on things I ask her to do. I think she gets distracted, or she just tells me “OK mom” to get me to stop talking at her. Here is the gist.
    • If you have something you need your child to do, or a set of instruction you tell your child to repeat what you just said. This method is especially effective when paired with the eye technique! Yes you can double up!!! Ask for their eyes, tell them what you need to, then say “Joe, can you tell mom what I need you to do.”
    • When I first started this technique I was surprised at how little my once good listener could repeat back. Shed get a little part of it…or maybe a key word and then trail off looking sheepish. Don’t get mad, just ask if they need you to repeat it. Tell them again and then ask them to repeat it AGAIN. After a week or so of this you should notice a much better recall from your little one.
  • Use No less – Don’t roll your eyes just yet! I am a big believer in the word NO! I think this generation of children probably don’t hear it enough…confused yet? Here is the ‘No less’ idea.
    • Think of a few things your family doesn’t tolerate. What things justify a scary mommy voice NO!!! For us it is safety, for a child, sibling or house hold item. No jumping off the table, biting sister, throwing mommy’s phone. All of these things justify a no (picture scary mommy face) in my house.
    • For the rest of the situations tell your child what you would like them to do, not what they can’t do. Yesterday my 2 year old found our water spray bottle for hair and excitedly started spraying her stuffed animal. I quickly told her, “Oh your puppy will get too wet if you spray him, he might even get stinky if he is too wet. What can you spray? Why don’t you go spray your kid table, it needs a good spray!” She immediately ran to drench her table. When you tell a child NO you cannot do that they can be left confused, mad or at a loss.
    • Telling a child what they are able to do gives them a plan and nothing to be mad about. It does take a bit of practice but after a week or so it will come naturally. Some Examples:
      • Chairs are for bottoms not feet, can you please sit down on your chair?
      • Oh, your cookie is too messy for the couch, please take it into the kitchen.
      • Screaming at your sister isn’t nice, we use our inside voices when talking.

So I have a couple more tools I use but they are a bit different. These tips make me use a lot less screaming and threatening, which we could call Negative Communication. If you would like to be a parent who never yells (or doesn’t yell as much as they used to) add these tools to your belt as well.

  1. Give 5 minute warnings – Think of some of your most stressful times of the day and I guarantee most of them happen around or because of a transition for your child. Transitions are when your child has to stop one thing and start another. Transitions are such a big deal that your preschooler probably has a whole list of songs their teacher sings when it is time to do something new, one little trick to make it less stressful on the children.
    • Our most stressful transitions are: getting out the door, ending play for dinner time, starting bedtime routine. If I don’t handle these transition times well you can easily hear screaming…mostly from the toddler, from a block away. One of the best tools I use is a 10 to 5 minute warning. I might stick my head out back and say, “Evelynn, Genevieve in 5 minutes you’ll need to come in and wash your hands because dinner is almost ready.”
    • First say your child’s name. Secondly tell them what is expected of them. Thirdly tell them what is coming next. This helps children feel a bit more in control of themselves and their schedule. It also gives them a few minutes to process that play is coming to an end. It is so important that when you say their name to check that they are truly listening, otherwise this tool is useless.
  2. Tell your children when you are stressed – This trick has been HUGE for me. I like, my children, become very stressed and sometimes mean around tradition times. My hardest time to keep my cool is when I am trying to get 3 children out the door for something. Once or twice a week I turn into Crazy Mommy. No one likes her, not even me! I have found a tool that helps keep Crazy Mommy a bit more civil.
    • When I notice I am being short…or even mean with my sweeties I simply tell them what is going on. “Mom is feeling really worried that we are going to be late. Can you help me by getting your shoes on. I am sorry I was not using a very nice voice. I am going to work on using my nice voice, can you work on being listening?” Obviously this tip is going to be completely lost on a young child…they might even laugh at you, but it has done wonders for my 4 year old and I! It helps her see that mommy has big emotions too, and how I try to responsibly deal with them. It also helps her know what she can do to help. Finally it justifies any hurt feelings she might have because of the was I was acting, and hopefully helps her feel less hurt. Try this with your child and see if it helps in those crazy situations.
  3. Talk quieter when your children are being loud – This tool has helped a lot with my 2 year old, but can be used on any age in a loud situation.
    • I simply say my child’s name, loud enough that they know I am trying to communicate, you may have to use some touch to get that point across. Then I talk in a normal, inside voice level, as if they should be able to hear me. Sometimes I repeat it a few times, if the crying or loudness hasn’t calmed down. Usually my 2 year old can’t help herself and will quiet down so she can find out the secret I’m trying to tell her.

I so hope that you find a couple of ways to help you and your child communicate better! In the end though, this list isn’t going to fix all your communication woes. I am not a big screamer, I wasn’t raised in a screaming house. But I do have a scary mommy voice that I use a lot more than I want to. Every day I have times where I use a tool from my toolbox and I think “Wow, that was an awesome mommy moment, I rock.” And every day I have times where I think, “Now my sweet little girl has her head down and sad eyes all because I couldn’t take a deep breath and handle the situation like an adult.” But guess what? At bedtime I read a book, and snuggle and tell her I love her to where the polar bears live and back and she has completely forgotten that mommy had a sucky mommy moment earlier that day. She goes to bed happy, I get a few hours of off duty time and then we try again tomorrow. In my book thats a good day!

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