I just reviewed some play therapy literature and was once again reminded that:
children do not have the same communication/verbal abilities as adults.
And yet, most of us persist in trying to engage children in meaningful dialogue for some of the following reasons:
1. Make a connection or create or build a relationship with a child;
2. Solve a problem for the child;
3. Solve a problem for the adult (this is usually the case when we adults think it is “the child’s problem”);
4. Ask or command a child to do something;
5. Teach a child a new skill; and,
6. Explain a rational answer to a child’s question.
Here’s some possible ways to use language in a different way to meet the child at the child’s level of verbal/cognitive understanding:
A. When greeting or initiating a dialogue with a child, try to phrase your remarks WITHOUT JUDGEMENT words. To make ourselves look good in a child’s eyes, we usually resort to something like, “Oh what a pretty pink dress you have on.” Or, “That was a very smart thing to say.” Both of these comments are viewed as judgmental to a child. You might want to change these statements to: “You’re wearing a pink dress.” And, “You gave your answer to the teacher’s question.”
Do you notice that first set of remarks has the adult’s judgment inherent in the remark? And the second set of remarks are like a reporter without any biases? Sometimes a girl might not like her pink dress that day; and the other child may have his or her own views on the answer to the teacher.
Children will look at the NON-JUDGMENTAL adult with a little apprehension at first, as this is totally a different way of reacting than a child is used to. But if that adult continues to be NON-JUDGMENTAL, the child will quickly trust that adult and begin to share accurate information about what is really going on inside of his or her head and heart.
SOLVING PROBLEMS has to do with teaching the child to take ownership/responsibility for their own thought and behaviors. Thus, instead of giving the child “THE ANSWER,” have the child work to achieve their own answer. (Here’s where Love and Logic is terrific. A stepwise progression into listening, offering choices and following up to see how the problem was solved.)
When ASKING or DIRECTING a child to do something, please make sure you have the child’s attention and then give the child the continuity of steps that will complete the task (the number of steps depend upon the child’s age and developmental achievement). For instance, “Johnny, we need to get in the car and go shopping.” This assumes that Johnny knows to a) put away the toy he is playing with; b) puts on a clean tee-shirt; c) puts his dirty tee-shirt in the laundry; d) announces he is ready to go shopping; and e) goes to the car and gets into his backseat safety car seat. (I know this is a LONG example, but you understand all the steps that we ASSUME our children understand is being asked of them, when we only make a simple request to “get in the car.”)
TEACHING a NEW TASK involves the need for giving the child the HANDS ON ability to understand what is being asked of him or her. Without being able to EXPERIENCE the task, words often fail the child. It is extremely difficult for children to take adult words, make them into “pictures” in their brain and then be able to attempt to be successful on the first time with the requested task. If your child has never “cleared the table” by himself, or “leave me a note” (written, phone, tweet, etc), he or she may have a completely different way of approaching the task than you had ever thought of. Think of the child who thinks “clearing the table” means putting all the items on the table–on the floor?
Responding to a child with a RATIONAL response to a question means that before you answer exactly what the child is asking. This means that you may have to ask the child to repeat exactly what he or she is asking. Here’s the favorite: child asks “Where did I come from?” The bewildered, but dutiful parent goes into all things reproductive, when finally the child interrupts and says, “But what city was I born in?”
Children have an excellent command of language–it is from their experience, beliefs and understanding—not from the adult’s point of view.
Be gentle with your child and yourself in all things to do with COMMUNICATION.