Over the last 3 months at home with a newborn little boy, I have become quite familiar with the use of a pacifier. After just a few short days home from the hospital, I remember holding my little boy as I was trying to get him to stop crying. I quickly reached for the pacifier and stuck it in his mouth with the hope it would silence his cries. It did, and I instantly felt relief. I then started thinking, did I miss an opportunity for him to be telling me what he wants? Am I taking the time to learn what each of his cries mean so that he can communicate with me?
As I sat and thought about this more it made me realize how much this same question generalizes to kids of all ages. How many times has my 3 year old tried to talk to me or complain to me just for me to tell her to hold on, invalidate what she is saying, or try to jump in and quickly pacify her?
How do we learn what our children’s “cries” mean and teach them appropriate ways to express them? Do we teach our children to communicate with other peers and have conversations? How do we as parents ensure that we are not silencing our children?
1. A feeling should not be dismissed. When a child expresses something, they are trying to convey a feeling. Help them name that feeling, as well as accept it. Then coach them to work through it.
Ex: “I hear you whining. It sounds like you are disappointed that you don’t like what we are having for dinner. Is there something that you would like to add to the dinner I made?”
2. Put screens down, turn off television, and teach conversation. When we have stuff we need to do, it’s tempting (and easy) to plop our young kids in front of a screen. My new year’s goal is to find other go-to strategies for helping my preschooler keep herself occupied and to decrease the amount of time I am on my phone when my children are present, whether it is talking, texting, or social media. My daughter loves to talk in the car, about everything! I often tell her to wait or quiet down because I’m on the phone. Instead, I can try listening to her questions, talking back and forth and teaching her great conversational skills. These are all things that help children learn how to understand feelings, take turns in conversation, and communicate with others.
3. Replace screen time with family talk time. Teach children to ask questions about others, share their feelings, and even pick daily topics to talk about. As a family, create a conversation jar where family members can take turns picking from the jar. You can find several lists online with fun and interesting topics. Questions like, “what’s your favorite holiday and why?” might even help you get to know different sides of your children and partner.