Okay, I’ll level with you: talking to your preschooler isn’t always easy. They’re young, impulsive, and they can be pretty ugly sometimes — especially when they’re all grumpy and tired from a long day of destroying priceless antiques, wearing the cat as a hat, and drawing on the walls with a permanent marker.. All jokes aside, it can be hard to find things about them to talk about.
Model the behavior you want your child to learn.
The easiest way to get your child to listen is by modeling the behavior you want them to learn. If you say “no” instead of “please,” they will mimic that behavior. If you yell, they will yell back. And if you’re constantly on your phone or other electronic devices, they’ll soon be begging for their own gadget time. A good place to start is by using “I” statements rather than “you” statements (“I need help cooking dinner so I can get the table set quickly,” instead of “You need to go take a bath”). This way, your child isn’t feeling attacked or cornered, and he or she will be more likely to cooperate and listen.
In addition, try to focus on emotions instead of objects when communicating with your preschooler. For example, instead of saying “thank you for putting away the dishes,” try “I’m so happy that you helped me clean up after dinner.”
Use smaller instructions
For young kids, one long instruction can be overwhelming. It can seem like a lot to remember, especially for kids who are still learning about the world and how to express themselves.
Instead of asking your child to put on their pajamas AND brush their teeth AND come downstairs, break down each task into smaller instructions. Instead of saying “Put your socks on,” you could say: “Put your right foot through the sock.” Then, “Put your left foot through the sock.” Then, “Pull the sock up onto your ankle.” Then, “Do the same thing with the other sock,” or guide them through it as they do it.
For older kids, you could try explaining that you’re going to give them one thing at a time to do because then it will be more manageable. In fact, when you’re giving instructions to adults on a complicated task—like helping them set up a new computer or phone—you should also break it down into smaller pieces.
Another way to help kids get things done is by using positive language instead of negative language. Instead of saying “Don’t spill milk!” you can say “Hold the glass with two hands.”
Listen to your kids and teach them to listen, too.
I know you’re tired. I know you’re stressed. I know you have a lot on your mind. But when you’re talking to your kid, really talk to him. And when he’s talking to you, try to listen—and teach him how to listen, too. It’s tempting (maybe even necessary) to check out sometimes, but it’s important that we give our kids our attention whenever we can do so without losing our sanity.
In order to get them talking, they need to know that someone is listening in the first place—and that starts with us being present in conversations with them. One of the ways we show them that we’re interested in what they have to say is by making eye contact, which helps them feel as if they have an audience who cares about hearing what they think and what they’ve learned. This is a skill that takes practice and patience from both sides, but it’s one of the most important ones for establishing good communication habits for the rest of their lives. It also means less time repeating ourselves later on down the road!
Praise the effort, not the outcome
Instead of praising kids for their successes, praise them for their efforts. When they put in the work, they feel proud of what they’ve accomplished—and when they feel proud, they’re far more likely to want to do whatever it is again and again.
The key is that you want to praise the effort—not the outcome. Saying things like “Great job tying your shoes!” or “Wow, you really tried hard to get those knots right,” is better than saying things like “You tied your shoes! You must be so smart.” Why? Because praising kids for their outcomes (in this case, tying their shoes) can actually encourage a fixed mindset—the belief that abilities are fixed traits rather than something we can improve through our efforts. Praising effort instead encourages a growth mindset: the belief that abilities can be developed through perseverance and hard work.
Let it go sometimes
When your child first learns how to speak, there are no limits to the joy and excitement you feel. But as your little one gets older, that love of language can sometimes get exhausting. You’ve probably heard that children ask hundreds of questions every day, but what’s less often mentioned is that a good percentage of those questions are variations on the same theme: “Why?”
The best way to get through this phase is just to let it go sometimes. For example, if your child asks inane questions like, “What color is the sky?” or “How do birds fly?” answer with a simple and short response—or just don’t respond at all.
This approach will not only save you from having to answer things you already know, but it’ll also teach your child the difference between meaningful and meaningless questions. It’s a lesson she won’t learn from you if you always respond to everything she says.
If it’s important for your child to learn how something works, there are plenty of ways to teach her without answering her question directly. Take her outside and point out examples of things working together; show her how things work by demonstrating; or read books about particular subjects so she can learn about them on her own!
The bottom line is, your child wants to talk to you about their world, and you definitely want to talk to them about their world. What’s more, it helps if both of you have some techniques in place that encourage good communication from the get-go. These techniques just might help you go crazy (just a little) less often.