Does anyone else feel like her kids ignore her, oh, 97 percent of the time?
Like when, just for hypothetical example, requests to clean up the Magna-Tiles get tuned out, monologues about the day’s agenda elicit a confused “What?” and efforts to discuss the self-actualizing lessons of The Little Engine That Could are met with knock-knock jokes about butts…?
Anyway, speech pathologist Kelly Lelonek has lots to say about why our kids don’t always “get” us — mainly because we talk too much. Here are her best tips for how to encourage little ones to tune in and listen up.
1. It’s never too early to develop good communication habits.
Babies as young as five months old know their names, says Lelonek. Around nine months old, they understand basic words like “No.” When you’re spending time with your baby, get down to her level, call her name and wait for her to establish eye contact before asking a specific — not open-ended — question (“Do you want the dolly or the bunny?” vs. “What do you want to play with?”).
2. Clarity is key.
Speak slowly and simply, in sentences that are as short as possible says Lelonek. She suggests reinforcing words with visual cues, like showing the child a picture of what you’re discussing, or pointing out an object in the room as you say it. Keeping your language pared down works both for developing speech and for managing behavior as children get older. Writes Robert J. Mackenzie in Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child, “A clear message should inform children, specifically and directly, what it is you want them to do. If necessary, tell them when and how to do it. The fewer words, the better.” His example? “Clean up your mess at the counter, please, before you do anything else. This means putting your silverware and bowl in the sink and wiping off the counter.”
Keeping your language pared down works both for developing speech and for managing behavior as children get older.
3. Live in the now.
Lelonek suggests speaking about the present, not what happened yesterday or what you’re planning for tomorrow. Most kids do not even begin to grasp the concept of time until after kindergarten. You’ll have better luck getting through to them if you focus on the here and now.
4. Silence background noise.
The TV that no one’s watching, the car radio, even the whirring oven vent can interfere with a kid’s ability to process language. Optimizing their environment for good communication means “eliminating distractions and background noise,” says Lelonek.
5. Leave some white space in conversation.
As adults, we’ve learned to view extended silences as awkward or uncomfortable. But when we jump in to fill them, we end up bulldozing right over our kids’ opportunities to formulate and express their thoughts. “After asking a question, give your child at least five seconds to think and respond,” says Lelonek. “Kids need time to process our questions and their reactions. We do not need to fill every silent gap with talking.”
By Suzanne Zuckerman