Positive family communication starts early

How to build strong communication skills with your young child.

Families who possess strong and positive communication skills form strong and trusting bonds between parents and children, and create a network of trust and reliance on one another in good times as well as tough times. Positive communication is respectful, open, honest, straightforward and kind. Michigan State University Extension has some tips to build strong communication skills with your young child.

Listen. It’s easy to say we are going to listen and even think we are listening well, but actually listening and hearing what other people say can be difficult. It is sometimes challenging, but try engaging in active listening. Active listening is when you are not listening to respond, but listening to hear and understand, and it involves being able to reflect back to the meaning and emotions you hear.

Be a communicator. Talk, talk and talk some more. Really try to be a good and thorough communicator with your child and family. Talk about any changes to your daily routine, how your day was and anything else that is on your mind. Make sure talking goes two ways and ask questions. Talking about positive things instead of only focusing on the negative ones can help establish trusting and open communication, so when negative or emotional issues come up, children know you are willing to listen and communicate.

Exercise good nonverbal communication. Pay attention to the tone and volume of your voice as well as your body language. Are you showing good nonverbal communication skills? The tone and volume of your voice can alter the meaning of your words, so use a calm and even tone when speaking. Using closed body language, like crossing your arms or turning away, tells your child you are not really listening or you are angry or upset, which may prevent them from feeling like they can really share with you. Show them open body language and let them know you are ready to listen.

Give your full attention. It’s important to commit when you are communicating with your child. By showing them good eye contact and eliminating distractions, you are showing your child you value them and are committed to positive communication. Be fully present when communicating with your child.

Don’t judge. Listening nonjudgmentally will allow your child to really express themselves and be honest. A big part of positive communication is trust, and if you withhold judgement while you are listening, your child will learn to trust that you will be open and dependable.

Address issues. When conflict or other issues arise in your family, address them quickly. Small problems that aren’t’ dealt with often lead to bigger problems. Address any problems that come up early using open and honest communication, and show your children you can communicate to solve problems in a positive and constructive manner.

Teach and practice I-statements. I-statements are a great way to communication feelings in a respectful and upfront manner. Tey are also helpful when having difficult discussions or when emotions are high.

The formula for an I-statement looks like this:

I feel (state the feeling/emotion)...when (state the behavior)…because (state why you feel that way). What I want/need is (state the exact behavior that you want to see happen).

For example, if your child hasn’t cleaned up their toys even after you’ve asked twice, you can say:

“I feel frustrated when you choose not to clean up your toys after I asked you to because it makes it difficult for everyone else in the family to get around the house. What I need is for you to listen to my instructions and clean up your toys.”

Model it. Children learn by watching you and other important adults in their lives. If you show them open and honest communication by participating in it yourself, they are likely to learn it from you. Show them what good communication looks like when you are speaking to a family member, neighbor, wait staff at a restaurant or even the mail carrier.

Own your mistakes. Nobody is perfect, so if you find yourself not being a good communicator either with your child or with someone else, own it. Tell your child, “I was supposed to be listening to you talk about your day at school, but I got distracted and I wasn’t paying attention. I’m so sorry. Please start again and I will listen and hear what you are saying this time.”

Working towards positive communication with your child early on will help build a strong foundation for communication. This foundation will help support and facilitate communication with your child as they get older and run into more serious, real-world problems.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Impacts and Programming in Michigan page.

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