The start of a new year is a natural time to renew – or start – healthy habits, and here’s one that affects many aspects of a child’s life: positive parent-child communication. How adults interact with children is so important in showing children they matter and are loved. Teaching children they are cared for and appreciated builds self-esteem and self-confidence, helps children learn to love themselves and others, and makes every day a bit more joyful for all. Consider these tips for positive parent-child communication as you start the coming year.
The importance of honest praise
Children pay attention to positive parent interactions. When praise is incorporated as part of daily parent-child interactions, children respond with improved compliance and learn that their relationship with their parents is important. Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth C. Shepherd has these recommendations for how to praise honestly and effectively:
Specific praise is important as it provides feedback to a child so they understand what was worthy of praise. For example, state “You did a great job putting the blocks in the box” for a preschooler or “You did a great job observing your curfew” for your adolescent.
Keep in mind that praise can be non-verbal such as a smile, a hug or a “thumbs up.” This interaction builds positive communication between the parent and child and increases self-esteem.
Praise should be honest as children readily know when praise is not genuine. Avoid praising poor performance but encourage effort. When the child’s team loses a sporting event, state: “You looked disappointed that you lost after trying so hard.” This validates the child’s feelings without implying that the performance was stellar.
Remember to understand a child’s developmental stage. A preschooler can do a good job cleaning up with guidance and structure. A school-age child can be independent with clear expectations such as a posted chore chart. Using a sticker chart or token system to earn time for preferred activities is another way to acknowledge the child’s success. This strategy also increases the child’s motivation for less desirable tasks such as cleaning a bedroom or completing homework.
Point out special talents and help the child see how this skill is part of the family. For example, state “Wow, you pitch a baseball just like Uncle Bill” or “You draw landscapes just like Grandma.” A sense of belonging increases the child’s resilience (capacity to recover quickly from difficulties) in a world that can be stressful. Having a personal identity with strengths to balance challenges increases the child’s ability to cope with adversity.
Most of all, praise throughout the day to avoid the pitfall of focusing on the negative. A smile starts the day with positive emotional energy.
Listed below are suggestions from CHoR’s Brook Road Campus Psychology Department for communication that shows children you care about them with both your words AND actions.
Smile a lot.
Make yourself available.
Let them act their age.
Listen to them.
Tell them their feelings are OK. Let them know that all feelings are OK. Help them understand that although you may not always approve of their actions, their feelings are not wrong. For instance, while it is not OK to hit, it is OK to be angry.
Find a common interest that you can both enjoy and do together.
Believe in them.
Delight in their uniqueness. Appreciate their unique qualities and use specific examples to let them know the things that you appreciate or like about them.
Accept them as they are.
Notice when they are acting differently. If a child is trying something new that they were afraid of, support them and let them know you are proud of them. If they are acting differently in a negative manner, try to help figure out what’s upsetting them.
Kneel, squat or sit so you are at their eye level.
Make eye contact and eliminate electronic distractions when speaking to children. This teaches effective communication skills and lets the child know that they matter.
Listen to your tone of voice and monitor body language as children quickly know when someone is irritated, even if it stems from the parent’s stress and not the child’s behavior. Use a neutral tone of voice and relaxed arms and hands.
Catch them doing something right. If they are playing nicely with another child, quietly waiting their turn, sharing their toys, cleaning up or following directions, etc., let them know you like what they are doing and tell them specifically what behaviors you like.
And overall: Praise more, criticize less.