Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Communication includes speaking, tone of voice, body language, and listening. It’s important to make your words match your tone and body language. Saying things with a different tone of voice can have vastly different meanings. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to two different songs with the same words, but depending on the style of the song, the words can have very different meanings. For example, the youtube clip, "Happy Sad Songs and Sad Happy Songs." It is a video where they take songs in major keys and change them into minor keys and take songs in minor keys and change them into major keys. This video shows how changing the tone of the song can change or confuse the meaning. The same thing happens with your tone of voice. When you say something with the wrong tone of voice you change or confuse what you are actually trying to communicate.
You also need to be clear in your language. You need to clearly explain your expectations and requests. Use specific language. For example, my son wanted to go outside the other day but he needed to get ready for the day before he went. Instead of telling him he needed to get ready, I asked him to put his shirt, pants, and shoes on and brush his teeth and then he could go outside. This gave him clear instructions instead of an ambiguous direction to get ready.
Part of being clear is focusing on what your child can do, instead of what he can’t do, can help him better manage his behavior. When you tell your child not to do something you need to tell him what he can do, so he can replace the negative behavior with positive behavior. For example, yesterday my two-year-old threw his food on the floor. Instead of focusing on him throwing his food on the floor, I asked him to please pick up the food on the floor, keep his food on his plate, and then thanked him for doing so.
Another strategy to effectively communicate with your child is to soften strong reactions; kids will tune you out if you appear angry or defensive. For example, my son spilled water all over my couch yesterday. I was fuming inside but instead of reacting strongly, I calmly told him that he was not allowed to have water in the living room, and he needed to help me clean it up.
Another strategy is expressing your opinion without putting theirs down; acknowledge that it's okay to disagree. It goes along with resisting arguing about who is right. For example, if your child wants to go outside and play but it’s cold and rainy outside, you can say, “I understand you want to play outside, but it’s too cold and rainy. You can play when it warms up. Maybe you can play with your cars inside.” In this example, you clearly acknowledge your child’s feelings, state why he can’t do something that he wants and offer a different activity for him to do.
The final strategy is to focus on your child's feelings rather than your own during your conversation. For example, the other day my son wanted to go to his grandparents’ house but we couldn’t go. Instead of focusing on my feelings about him whining about it, I said, “I understand you want to go to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house, but we can’t go right now. I see that that makes you sad. Do you want to call them on the phone instead?” In this example, I acknowledged my child’s wish and his feelings and offered an alternative activity.
Children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. By using appropriate speech and tone of voice, communicating clearly, softening strong reactions, expressing your opinion without putting down theirs, and focusing on your child’s feelings rather than you own during a conversation you can help your child know expectations and be able to manage their own behavior within those expectations, thus creating a stronger, more positive relationship with you.
Want more out information about communication skills and why they are important? Check out this article.