Communicating with your child: How It Affects Them & Tips For Parents
Behaviour & Discipline
In parenthood, parents may find themselves struggling to find the right words to convey their thoughts and feelings. At times, the tone and choice of words may affect the intended communication, causing a negative development in a child’s growth or relationship with parents.
Parenting can be an extremely challenging and daunting job. Communication with their child is further complicated by the fear of damaging the child’s neurobiological wellbeing and concomitant need to protect one’s offspring. As a result, many parents may find themselves being pre-occupied over the minute details of their parenting skills, while trying to care for a child’s basic needs.
There are various factors impact communicating to our children. These can include:
Child’s abilities to understand language
Child’s ability to reason and process the information being shared
Parent’s ability to communicate information succinctly.
Communication is a two-way street, where what is said may not always be understood in the way that was intended, which also comprises of non-verbal components. All of these are contributing factors that makes it a rather challenging process.
Parents ought to know that the way they interact with their child, even from when they are just a baby, is likely to have an impact on the way the child interacts with others in the world. Children do learn through modelling the behaviors of key role models in their lives.
Possible effects on children who hear mentally/psychologically damaging comments regularly
Verbal abuse, in which the parent speaks disrespectfully to the child or speaks damaging comments, takes on a personal toll since the child may rely on the parent for his very sense of self. This would impact their self-concept, self-esteem and view of the world.
Over time, this can lead to emotional problems (i.e. depression), externalizing problems (i.e. anger and related outbursts) and even impact the way the child interacts with others as s/he matures and develops his or her own relationships.
When words can affect a child’s emotional state
Dr Sanveen Kang, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Thomson Paediatric Centre said, “Whilst it is possible to say things which may negatively impact your child’s opinion of themselves and the world around them, it is important to first understand what we mean by damaging. The second is to understand that “damage” often occurs over time, unless it is the case of abuse. One would need to reinforce the negative and unhelpful comments over a period of time in addition to the child experiencing the consequences of these statements if they were to become assumptions by which the child leads his or her life. The third would be to understand that that all children are individuals who cope differently with scenarios.”
Therefore, it is highly probable that parents may at some points say things that hurt their child and these comments can at times contribute to their development of self-concept. However, it is often not the case that a parent is going to say one thing that is going to scar the children neurobiologically.
Continue reading on the next page for tips...
Tips for parents when communicating with their child:
Use positive language on what is required of child to do
Teach and build skills in your child from a place of love, respect and emotional connection
Use teachable moments to build positive connections in your child’s brain.
Always connect with your child before redirecting them. Connecting reduces the emotional acceleration and creates opportunities for your child to practice calming down. It also helps us communicate that we value our relationship with our child.
Maintain eye contact – is one way to connect with your child.
Use volume appropriately.
Listening to your child (to meaning behind your child’s words) and validating their experience.
Consider your facial expressions, tone of voice, postures, gestures, timing of response, intensity of response and body language.
Suggest options and alternatives – This will help to make the child feel as though they have choices.
Be clear, consistent and set predictable limits for your child. Therefore, connection is not permissive.
Be careful of using attacking words such as “you are stupid”.
Talk to your child when you are calm – trying to problem solve when angry or upset, take you out from the present moment and may result in you acting from a place of fear of what might happen in the future when you do not resolve the problem
Observe their child’s behaviour during the conversation. Allow your child to explain their opinions and reasoning. Start with empathy and validation. Identifying your child’s feeling helps him/her feel understood.
Suggestions for parents when they start to feel angry
“Parents usually say things to their kids they don’t mean in a fit of anger. The most important thing to remember about anger is not to act while you're angry. It is important to recognize that we should not problem solve when we are angry or our ability to reason/react appropriately is compromised,” added Dr Kang.
However, in the event that a parent does say something they regret, it is important to own up to the child and have an unbiased conversation surrounding the initial issue. Parents can start by disclosing that they feel their words or responses were not appropriate, they are sorry and would like the opportunity to work through the problem again. It is important to recognize that this shows authenticity in the relationship and also, that parents do not continue to speak in the same negative tone to their child (as this may eventually impact the trust the child has).
It is quite impossible to avoid conflicts and confrontations. However, it is possible to avoid or reduce the emotional distress your child might experience by allowing your child to witness how can you solve problems in a respectful and calm manner, while keeping communication channels open.
Explore ways and attempt to calm down before solving a problem
Recognize that your child is not responsible for making you angry; own it to tame it
Walk away from situation for a few minutes. Give yourself a timeout and come back when you are able to be calm.
Engage the support of your partner when you feel that you are not able to manage the situation appropriately.
If you find yourself struggling with anger constantly, it is important to seek professional help.
Positive comments such as praise may have the potential to hurt a child in some circumstances
Praise needs to be used appropriately. Praise for children may be seen as affirming and positive, but there have been studies which suggest that the wrong kinds of praise can be very harmful to learning. For example, instead of focusing on their ability ("You did really well; you're so clever"), focus on their hard work ("You did really well; you must have tried really hard’).
Children who are given effort-based praise are more likely to show willingness to work out new approaches. They often more resilience and tend to attribute failure to lack of effort, not lack of ability. The children who are praised for their intelligence tend to choose tasks that confirm what they already know, display less resilience when problems get harder, and worry more about failure.
Dr Sanveen Kang Principal Clinical Psychologist & Centre Manager Thomson Paediatric Centre - The Child Development Centre
This article is brought to you by Healthway Medical.