As a parent, you want to build your child’s self-esteem. That’s pretty obvious. What may be less obvious is the fact that good communication – positive two-way communication – is essential to doing just that. And the earlier the better. Setting a pattern of clear, open discussions with your child gives them a sense of feeling worthy and loved — a definite self-esteem builder.
Even before a baby can master language, they understand it. Set aside time each and every day solely for the purpose of communicating with your baby. Read a book out loud or just talk to them about your day, anything will do. Crying, cooing, or making noises is their way to talk to you. Listen and encourage them. Smile, laugh, and respond, acknowledging they are heard and understood.
By the time your child is a toddler, they have developed a small vocabulary and can string words into small sentences. It’s more important to listen to what they are trying to say than correct their grammar. They may need more time to finish what they want to tell you. Be patient, don’t rush, and make sure your body-language is in sync with your mind. A tapping foot or a heavy sigh may imply to your child you do not want to listen, even if you are trying. Don’t let a finger in their nose distract you … it’s what they are saying, not their style of saying it that’s important. When you do respond – once they have finished – keep it simple so they can understand you in turn.
No matter the age, it’s always a good practice to make time each and every day for you and your child to talk. Start by listening to them, without distractions. No going over the grocery list or planning the next busy day. Really listen to what they are saying to you. Avoid interrupting, lecturing, or criticizing. Repeat what they have told you back to them, make certain you have understood them clearly. Allow them to correct any mistakes you may have made in your interpretation and paraphrasing. Let them know it is okay to have a different opinion and show you respect their point of view.
Rule number one in child-parent communication: If you want your child to listen to you, first you must listen to them. Listening is always the first step toward solving a problem. By listening, and listening well, you will develop empathy for what the child feels and thinks. A healthy dose of positive, encouraging words goes a long way. Praise good behavior and efforts; teach them that it’s okay to fail. Thank them for doing something well and have faith in their abilities. It’s better to tell them what you do want, not what you don’t, and always keep in mind children learn by trial and error. Remind them often how much you love them.
Angry reactions interfere with your ability to listen, and you will not hear what they are trying to say or understand their perspective. You will not get to the true emotion and underlying cause of whatever has created the friction between you in the first place. Or worse, an angry outburst may damage your child’s self-esteem. In that case, everyone loses.
It’s not always easy to make time to listen to children, but if you understand the need, you might think twice about putting them off because you need to run to a meeting, are swamped with work, or feel you must get to the gym. Want your child to listen to you? Then be a good role model and be ready, willing and able to listen to them, too.