How to connect and communicate with your children
The preschool years are one of the most important periods in your child’s social and emotional development. All the chatter and the questions and the pointing and the hugs serve a very important purpose. They help your child develop social and emotional skills that are ingredients for success and wellbeing in life.
Good family relationships make your child feel secure and loved. They help them develop confidence, resilience and communication – skills that prepare them for things they’ll come across later in life, like working through problems, dealing with stress and forming healthy relationships with other people in adolescence and adulthood.
Strong attachments and relationships early in life also mean your child is more likely to have better mental health and fewer behaviour problems.
Even the busiest of families can foster strong relationships by making time to do things together every day, taking an interest in each other, communicating in positive ways, and showing appreciation, love and encouragement through words and affection.
Building your child’s social and emotional skills
A big part of your job during the preschool years is to help your child develop self-esteem, coping skills, and social skills. Warm and loving family relationships help these skills grow. And as they grow, these skills help your child learn to cope with emotional changes and frustration, have hope, control impulses, and feel compassion and empathy.
Children who have good self-esteem feel they’re valued and can manage the world to some degree.
Self-esteem blooms with positive attention. You also help your child build self-esteem when you:
- foster their sense of who they are – for example, by sharing family photos, or looking at old drawings together to see how far they've come
- help develop confidence in their abilities – for example, by encouraging them to work out problems and make decisions
- help them learn to accept mistakes – for example, by not stepping in every time you see something about to fail. This way, your child learns to get back up and try again.
Good coping skills help us to deal with problems, frustrations, threats and challenges. The way babies and toddlers deal with these things – crying and tantrums – don’t go down well as an adult in the office!
You help your child build coping skills when you:
- teach them to understand their own feelings – at this age, reading stories together is a great way to begin talking about how your child might feel in different situations
- help them notice and deal with negative feelings like sadness, frustration and embarrassment before they get too strong to manage – for example, ‘I can see that that puzzle is frustrating you. It looks like you might need some help’
- model positive thinking in difficult situations – for example, ‘It’s scary to ask Harriet if you can play because she might say no. But she might also say yes. If she does you can have fun together’.
The social skills your child develops at this age range from smiling and using eye contact, to sharing and taking turns, to conflict resolution.
You help your child build social skills when you:
- show what good social skills look like – for example, listening when people talk to you, being polite, and doing kind things for your friends
- help them work out a solution to arguments with other children, make sure the solution is followed through, and praise everyone for helping to sort it out
- play games together – like ‘snap’ or ‘snakes and ladders’ – that involve winning and losing, model how to be a ‘good loser’, and talk through any problems that arise when your child loses.
Language: what to expect
At three to four years old, your child will probably:
- say sentences with five or six words
- be asking increasingly complex questions
- getting a sense of grammar – although it won’t be perfect!
By five years, your child will probably:
Worried about your child’s language development?
- be able to say his or her name and address
- be able to speak clearly using sentences of up to nine words
- have meaningful conversations and tell you detailed stories.
If your child seems to be lagging behind in using language (using sentences, knowing how to speak with others), or in pronouncing words (lisping, stuttering or difficulty forming sounds), you might want to see a speech pathologist. You could also ask your child and family health nurse or GP for advice.
Talking and listening
Talking and listening don’t just improve your child’s communication skills. Conversations with your child improve your bond with him or her, help to form relationships and build self-esteem.
Some children need a lot of encouragement and positive feedback to get talking. Others will be desperate to talk to you when you’re busy doing something else. This might mean stopping what you’re doing and listening.
Here are some suggestions for talking and listening with your child:
- Let your child finish talking and then respond. When listening, try not to jump in, cut your child off, or put words in her mouth.
- Watch your child’s facial expression and body language to understand what’s behind her words.
- Let your child know you’re listening – repeat back what your child has said and make lots of eye contact.
- Use language that your child will understand. Sometimes we forget that children don’t ‘get’ everything.
- Avoid criticism and blame. If you’re angry about something your child has done, try and explain why you want her not to do it again.
If your child feels comfortable talking about what they have been doing, this encourages them to tell you about the details of life when they are older - very useful when they become a teenager!
This article has been published with permission from Raising Children Network.