Children who learn to communicate effectively at home go out into the world prepared to practice those learned communication skills, solve problems, and lead the future children of the world. As a home educating family, we get a LOT of practice in communicating with one another all day and spend a lot of time with other families who are doing the same.
Here are some tips I learned from Rebecca Hintze on how to help you communicate effectively with your children and thus increase the chance for success as a family.
1. Allow children to freely express their feelings.
Tell your child that their thoughts, opinions, and feelings are valued. Reinforce your words by using the tips that follow. A child who knows that their thoughts and feelings are valued at home is better able to express themself in environments outside the home, such as at school, in sports activities, and, later, in the workforce.
2. Truly listen to your children.
This means putting away other distractions when your child is talking to you. Close the book you’re reading, put down the iPhone, turn off the TV. Don’t interrupt a child while he is speaking. If you happen to be doing something that they can join in with, invite them to do so and then listen while you work together.
For example, if you’re preparing dinner or changing the oil in your car or gardening, ask your child to work alongside you. Sharing experiences with your child can be as important—and beneficial—as sharing conversations.
3. Pay attention to the non-verbal cues you give your children.
Look at your child when they speak to you. Smile and nod responsively to demonstrate encouragement. Make sure your tone and body language match what you are saying. For example, don’t shake your head in seeming exasperation while at the same time saying words that you want to come across as encouraging.
Check your posture. Are your arms crossed against your chest? This might lead a child—or anyone, really—to feel that you are inaccessible or angry. Are you towering over your child while they sit on the floor or on a bed? Instead, sit next to your child. Physically get on their level while you talk to them.
4. Make sure you understand what your children are saying.
After you let your child finish speaking, then ask if you are understanding correctly. You may want to repeat back to them what they said and ask if you got it right.
Saying something similar to, “It sounds like things didn’t go as planned, is this right?” or “It sounds like you’re really worried about this, are you?” can help your child know that you are truly listening and trying to understand them. This is especially important when a child is upset or anxious and speaking quickly and excitedly.
5. Think before you react.
Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, you may need to give yourself a little bit of time. Remember that silence is okay. If you need to stay silent for a minute before responding, that’s fine. It helps you to calm down and gather your thoughts. And being silent is always far better than blowing up.
6. Be willing to laugh about things when needed.
Appropriate laughter can lighten the moment and reassure your child that you’re not angry with her when something goes awry. If your child spills something or makes a mess, rather than reacting with anger, perhaps think of a time when you were in a similar situation and share that story. Laughter can diffuse many tense moments. Just make sure you are never laughing at your child, only with them.
7. Don’t name call or threaten.
Not only do these things frighten and discourage your child, but they also teach them that such tactics are common behaviour. Likewise, don’t disparage other people—especially a partner or relative —in front of your child. Children model their parents’ behaviour and quickly pick up on attitudes and feelings. If they hear you being negative and critical about others, they are more likely to become that way themself.
8. Share family stories.
One of the best ways to build confidence and a sense of self in a child is to help them learn about the past . . . specifically, her family’s past. A treasured news article reported on a slew of studies that demonstrate the value of passing on family stories: “Experimental studies show that when parents learn to reminisce about everyday events with their preschool children in more detailed ways, their children tell richer, more complete narratives to other adults one to two years later compared to children whose parents didn’t learn the new reminiscing techniques. Children of the parents who learned new ways to reminisce also demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions.
This advanced narrative and emotional skills serve children well in the school years when reading complex material and learning to get along with others.
In the preteen years, children whose families collaboratively discuss everyday events and family history more often have higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts. And adolescents with a stronger knowledge of family history have more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Family storytelling can help a child grow into a teen who feels connected to the important people in her life.”
9. Make your home a comforting place.
Let your child know that home is a place of refuge, a place where they can talk without fear of judgment and a place they can run to when the outside world doesn’t seem to understand or care about them.
There are many ways to do this, but sometimes the simplest way is to come right out and tell your child; tell them you love them, and say it often! Remind them that when you are upset, it's never them you are upset with, but their behaviour or the circumstances (you might need to remind yourself of this too sometimes!)
10. Using Essential Oils to Foster Communication
One unique way to make your home a comforting place is to use essential oils. Here are three equally unique ways to do so:
• Diffuse an invigorating, pleasant oil, such as petitgrain, while your child studies to help them focus. Petitgrain, which is made from the leaves of bitter orange, is an extraordinarily potent mood elevator. It may help stimulate the mind, promote the recall of positive memories, and reduce mental fatigue. The scent is vibrant and refreshing and clears the mind so you—and your child—can focus better.
• Use lavender to calm your child and yourself. Lavender is sometimes called the oil of communication. It enhances cellular communication, which calms anxieties and promotes peace. It can also help lull little ones to sleep—and a rested child is always a happy child. Diffuse lavender at bedtime. Rub it on your child’s feet if they are feeling anxious or worried. Apply it to your own wrists and inhale when you need support or patience. This is my daughters favourite oil and she is frequently found with empty bottles in her bed!
• Diffuse an equal ratio of Roman chamomile, peppermint, and sage in the mornings as you and your child get ready for the day. This blend helps open the mind to set a positive tone for the day, and an open mind encourages creative thinking and wise communication.