Words are important. But as adults, we sometimes assume a child’s needs instead of waiting for them to articulate themselves. It’s faster. It’s easier. And it often alleviates a lot of stress on both of our parts.
For me, I did it all wrong! (…And after last week’s discussion with my pubescent teen, I still haven’t perfected the art.) When my son was a wee one I gave in to his tantrums and screams by learning his language or anticipating his needs instead of challenging him to use words to communicate his desires. In the long run… I didn’t do him (or my family) any favors.
For the Wee Ones:
It’s crucial that we encourage children to use their words rather than grunting, pointing, or resorting to tantrums and outbursts. You can help your young child meet these goals by saying, “I don’t understand you when…”, “Mommy can’t hear you when you yell…” or [when pointing] “Do you want the milk or juice?” to prompt word usage. If tantrums persist, model the words you’d like your child to use. Approximating or attempting to use words is the beginning of communication. As long as you’re not pedantic about your expectations, your child will continue to practice and improve.
For more information read this article from the Hanen Centre for language development.
For the Puberty Stricken:
For our tween and teen children, choices don’t work as well. It can often give kids a way out. The best solution is to first empathize with them, “I know you’re sad about missing the birthday party…” or “I imagine you are hurt when you learned that people gossiped about you…” Empathy often promotes trust which will give your child the confidence to open up and share their real feelings. If not, some open-ended questions may help, “What other ideas do you suggest?” or “What alternatives would you make to your friends?” You an also utilize your own village to help you engage with your child. Having a dear friend or family member to dinner and having them gently probe your tween or teen for information can open up a world of conversation. For some parents, meeting their kids where they are with tech tools is a good solution. Creating a WhatsApp or chat group for the family can maintain open communication without face-to-face communication. Whatever solution works this week might not work the next, but keep at it. Your kid (and you) need it!
For more information on communicating with your teen, here’s a source my husband and I have turned to.