The ability to express opinions and ideas in an effective manner is a necessary communication skill. Encouraging children to express their thoughts gives them the opportunity to practice language and interpersonal skills, as well as the time to be heard by an interested and caring adult. When a child is free to express his thoughts, parents get a window into the child's feelings, behaviors and motivations.
1. Lighten Up
You may be ready to begin "communication lessons," but your child may not feel so eager. Avoid the tendency to bombard your child with deep, thought-provoking questions. Instead, aim to open the communication pathways on a continual basis. Thoughts, opinions and ideas often slide between the cracks of regular conversation. Discussing daily events builds a bond that paves the way for a more serious discussion, according to KidsHealth.org.
2. Listen, Really Listen
Once the doors of regular conversation are opened, it is important to really listen to your child. Refrain from interrupting or doing other activities while your child is speaking. Listening to your child, especially when there is an attempt to discuss something of importance, tells your child that his thoughts matter. Though he may be unable or feel uncomfortable expressing his thoughts, the fact that you are giving him time sends a powerful message. The American Association of Pediatrics' HealthyChildren.org recommends using active listening, also called reflective listening: Directly face your child in a non-confrontational way, paying attention to his body language and expression, while letting him finish speaking before you respond. When responding, begin by summarizing what your child has said. You may even say something like: "I want to make sure I’m hearing you correctly, so let me repeat what you just said."
3. Ask Child-Friendly Questions
According to the Reach In, Reach Out website, using child-friendly questions, such as "What are you saying to yourself?" or "What are you thinking inside your head?" allows the child to bypass complicated vocabulary and wording. When dealing with older children, be specific. Rather than ask open-ended questions about your child's day, ask specific questions. Questions such as, "Who did you play with at recess today?" will get a more elaborate response than "How was recess?" Be casual when you ask your child questions. A child who is reticent to express himself may shy away from inquiries that sound more like an interrogation.
4. Build Bridges
Communication and the expression of thought, requires relevant vocabulary. Without the appropriate vocabulary, it is often challenging to pinpoint a thought or feeling with accuracy. Understanding the vocabulary of emotions, such as, happy, mad and sad make discussing emotions possible. Expression of thought also requires a finesse with language that a child may not yet possess. At those junctures where the child needs a bridge to connect him from what he is thinking in his mind to the expression of his thoughts, the parent may gently suggest possibilities. By being empathetic, you can help your child express himself more accurately.
- Vanderbilt University: Teaching Your Child to: Identify and Express Emotions The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learni
- Reaching IN...Reaching OUT: Helping Young Children Express and Challenge Their Thoughts
- Healthy Children: How to Communicate with a Teenager
- Kids Health: Talk to Your Parents - or Other Adults
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images