Recently I had the pleasure of entertaining a young couple and their infant twins. They encouraged me to hold the babies. As I rocked each little girl, I visited with her. I talked to her about her actions. “Oh, look at you wiggling those arms of yours.” I visited with her about our surroundings. “Listen to those birds singing. Hear their pretty songs.”
I was unconscious of my conversation until the babies’ dad said, “I’ll bet you talked to your kids that way when they were babies, didn’t you?” I agreed that I had.
Talking with children begins in infancy and continues throughout their development. Sometimes parents lament that their children don’t want to talk to them, that they’d rather watch TV or play on the computer. All children want to visit and be listened to. The art of talking with children may take some practice, but when the skills are learned, most children will choose a conversation with a caring adult over TV and the computer any time.
The art of talking with children is a two-part process--listening and talking. One of the greatest forms of caring is to listen to another. When we listen to our children, we learn about their interests and their concerns. When we listen without judgment and without the need to “teach and preach”, our children tell us about who they are, how they feel, and what they want or need.
Listening takes practice. As parents we are eager to tell our children about how to best live their lives. Too often our comments to them are based on what we think rather than in response to their words.
Recently I was in the grocery store, and I heard a child say, “What’s that?” She was pointing at an eggplant. Her parent said, “You wouldn’t like that. It doesn’t taste good, and I’m tired of buying things that you don’t eat.” The opportunity for conversation was lost. The child didn’t learn that the vegetable was an eggplant. The parent and child didn’t get to talk about how pretty eggplants are, or to expand beyond eggplants to explore what kinds of vegetables each of them like and don’t like. In this situation, the parent didn’t listen to the child’s question. She responded from her own emotional state.
Three suggestions can assist parents in becoming effective listeners:
The second part of the conversation process is talking. Many times we as parents talk AT our children instead of WITH them. When we use phrases like “Watch what you’re doing” or “Please eat your dinner”, we are talking at someone. The art of talking with children requires more. And that more depends on the child’s age.
These three suggestions will be helpful in developing the skills for effectively talking with children.
The art of talking with children has long and short-term benefits. Children and parents who talk with each other usually have close relationships. An understanding takes form, which indicates mutual interest and caring. When parents and children talk with each other in a congenial way about everyday topics, they have an easier time talking and listening when sensitive topics, such as drugs or sex, are discussed.
When parents talk with their children from infancy into childhood, the children tend to develop language skills earlier. Research shows that children who enter school with stronger language skills have an easier time in kindergarten and first grade.
Finally, when children learn the give and take of conversation in their home, it assists them socially for life.