How to Communicate with Children
How to Interact with Children
Whether you are babysitting, volunteering to watch a child or just want to play with a young person, you'll need to know how to interact with them. Exactly how you interact with a child will depend largely upon how old that child is. Children are generally grouped into 3 categories: infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. Knowing how best to interact with each age group can help you make the most of your time spent interacting with children.
Interacting with an Infant or Toddler
Communicate through touch or cuddling.Infants and toddlers (children under the age of 3) may be unable to speak to you, but this doesn't stop them from communicating. Most communication will be done through direct touch. Whenever you notice a baby or toddler crying or yelling, try holding or cuddling them to reassure them.
- Babies will learn through their sense of touch, what they see and what they hear. Use sensorial play, meaning you should invite them to touch objects with you, which helps them learn.
- Always make sure to speak softly, use a positive tone of voice, and move gently when holding or interacting with an infant or toddler.
- Allow the baby or toddler to be the one to initiate contact with you. Invite the child to hold your hand, take a toy from you, or ask them for a hug. You can also greet them with a smile, and by saying, “Hello!” They can recognize their name, so be sure to use it!
- Infants and toddlers might not like when someone they don't know well holds them. If the baby starts crying or gets uncomfortable, try handing them back to someone they are familiar with.
Keep an eye on your tone and body language.Babies will be highly receptive to both your tone and your body language. If you are acting nervous, impatient, or tense, the baby will likely pick up on that and feel uncomfortable. Always make sure you are moving or speaking in a calm and gentle manner when interacting with a toddler.
- Your feelings may affect your body language and tone. Make sure you're in a calm, collected and reassuring mood when holding or speaking to a toddler.
- Don't shout or use sharp tones near a baby or toddler.
Try talking, even if the child doesn't understand.It doesn't matter if a child can understand the words you are saying to them. Speaking to a baby is a great way for them to begin associating emotions with words and sounds. Go ahead and talk with a baby or toddler, either in the simple noises they make or regular speech to help them feel comfortable.
Play some simple games.Toddlers will be full of energy and playing a simple game with them can be a great way to interact with you. There are many basic games that you can play with a toddler to help keep them engaged and entertained. Try playing some of these games with toddlers to make your time together a lot of fun:
- Try playing games that repeat sounds or words. Reciting a simple nursery rhyme is also a good idea.
- You could both sit on the floor and roll a ball to one another.
- Build something together with blocks.
- Get imaginative by playing with dolls or stuffed animals.
Interacting With Preschoolers
Keep things simple.Preschoolers, or children ages 3 and 4, like having choices. Offer them choices to help them stay engaged.Whenever you are offering a choice or an explanation, you'll want to keep things easy to understand. Going into too much detail or offering too many options can both confuse or frustrate a preschooler. Always try to keep things as clear and simple as you can when speaking to a preschooler to help them understand whatever it is you're trying to convey.
- For example, offering a child a menu of more than 3 items for lunch might be too much for them. Try to keep the options simple and limited in number.
- If a child asks you “Why is it raining?” try responding with a simple and honest explanation, like, “When enough water goes into a cloud, it gets too heavy and has to fall back down.” Don’t be afraid to use adult language! You can tell them, “This is called precipitation.”
Ask for their help when dealing with a problem.Trying to understand what made a preschooler upset can be a challenge. It's easier if you involve them in the conversation and have them help you learn exactly what is causing a problem. Try to use your questions to find out what made them upset and why, before reassuring them that everything will be better.
- For example, if a child was stung by a bee, you might ask questions like “Did something hurt you?”, “Was it a bug or an animal?”, “Do you know what kind of bug?” and “Was it a bee?”
- Asking questions is a good way to involve the child, get clear information from them and help them to understand their own situation with more clarity.
Help kids learn from mistakes.Children are always learning. Because of this, children will also often make mistakes. These mistakes are all valuable learning opportunities, allowing a child to correct their actions and do better next time. Always try to turn any mistakes into helpful lessons when you are spending time with children.
- Help children discuss their feelings after an outburst, conflict or argument.
- Try asking the child to calm down and use their words to describe their feelings and explain why they acted the way they did.
- Let the child know that it's okay to feel upset or angry, but that their way of expressing that feeling was inappropriate.
- If a child had difficulty with some activity, try showing them another way of doing it and encouraging them as they make another attempt.
Have fun with some games and activities.Preschoolers will love to play and having a few games ready can help make your time together a lot of fun. Keeping kids busy with a fun activity can also help them to channel their energy and keep them from causing mischief elsewhere. Check out some of these examples of activities that you can try together:
- Try throwing a tea party. You can invite stuffed animals or other caretakers to join in.
- You can pretend to cook a meal together.
- Try singing songs together or reading a book to them.
- You could build a pillow or blanket fort together.
- Try letting them cut out pictures they like from old magazines and making a collage. Remember to use safety scissors.
Learn how to respond to questions.Young children are highly inquisitive and want to learn all they can about the world around them. At this age, they will also be able to speak well enough to throw more than a few questions your way.It’s also okay to tell a preschooler you don’t know the answer to their question. Teach them how to find it by searching for information in a book or on the web together.
- Keep your answers short and simple.
- Don't get nervous if a child asks an odd or inappropriate question. Try to remain calm and answer the question as fairly and factually as you can.
- Young children are often focused on physical characteristics and may make remarks about someone's appearance. Try to answer any questions of this sort as directly as you can.
- For example, if a child asks “Why is your finger so crooked?”, you could reply by saying something like “I have arthritis. It's something some adults can get and it can make your joints look like mine.”
- If a child keeps asking the question “Why?”, try to ask them to answer their own question. For example, if a child asks you something like “Why is the sky blue?”, you could respond with “Why do you think it's blue?”
Interacting With School Age Children
Avoid speaking to a child as if they were a baby.School age children, or children between 5 and 12, won't want to be treated like children. Kids in this age group will appreciate it if you speak to them in a mature way and will be excited to show off their knowledge and speaking skills. Talking down to children may actually annoy them and make interacting with them more difficult.
- Always try speaking to school age children with mature language to help them feel respected and acknowledged.
- If a child doesn't understand what a word means, they will usually be happy to have it explained to them.
- Scolding or nagging children this age will likely only cause trouble. Instead, simply let your expectations be known and ask them how they plan to meet them.
Let them have a bit of control.School age children will want to begin exerting some of their own control in life. Allowing them some basic responsibilities or a chance to plan their schedules can be a good way to interact with school age children.
- You might let a child decide what time of day they sit down to do their homework.
- You can try letting them decide how much help they want with their homework.
- Letting a child make some of their own choices can be a good thing. However, you should be ready to say no to something if it is unreasonable.
Take their questions seriously.Children between the ages of six and eleven will want to be taken seriously by the adults around them. Even if you already know the answer to a question they might ask, it's a good idea to take a moment and appear as though you are thinking about it. Showing this consideration can help a child feel like their thoughts, questions and opinions are being considered and taken seriously.
- For example, a child might ask you if they can eat ice cream for breakfast. You already know they can't, but it can be a good idea to say something like “Hmmmm. No, I don't think that's the best choice. Let's think of another thing to eat.”
- You can also try asking a child to repeat the question to show that you are interested in what they have to say and make them feel like they are being heard.
Respect each child as an individual.Showing a child respect and giving them your full attention will help build a positive relationship. Children are individuals and want to be treated as such. Making eye contact and speaking directly with a child can help them learn how to engage with adults and will make them feel that they are being heard and addressed.
- Whenever you are caring for a child, try speaking with them in a way that you would want to be spoken to.
- Giving a child your full attention will make them feel acknowledged.
- Try to let a child speak fully before speaking to them. This can be a way to model good conversational habits.
Find a fun activity or game to play.Children of all ages love to play and school age children are no different. However, school age children generally won't like the same activities that younger children might and may want to do something more involved. Try looking over some of these example activities to help make your time together fun for both of you:
- You could try building a race track by laying down lines of painters tape to mark “the road”.
- Play a game of animal charades and try to guess which animal the other is pretending to be.
- You could both build an indoor obstacle course. Try leaping over pillows, crawling under string, balancing a ball on your head or any number of safe, homemade obstacles.
- Try building something out of popsicle sticks or cardboard.
- Play some simple card games or work on a puzzle together.
Interacting With a Child of any Age
Offer plenty of praise and acknowledgement.Offering praise is a great way to make a child feel accomplished and rewarded for good behavior. Children are always seeking feedback regarding their actions and giving them that feedback can be a meaningful way of interacting with them. Always let children know that you are aware of the positive things they've done.
Create a structured environment.Children learn well and feel comfortable in orderly and stable environments. These structured environments will help children focus, relax, behave and learn. Try to create an organized environment and clear rules whenever you are caring for a child.
- If you regularly care for a child, building a schedule and sticking to it can help them feel comfortable.
- Try to involve children in the creation of schedules. Ask them what activity they would like to do and when they would like to do it.
- Make sure you provide any items or materials for activities you might do together.
- Work with the children to create rules. This can help them feel involved and will make the rules clear.
Know which toys are safe.Not all toys will be appropriate for playtime, depending on the age of the child. For many small or young children, most toys could present a choking hazard. Always make sure that whatever toys you are playing with are age appropriate. Take a look at some of these guidelines to help you safely play with the child you're caring for:
- Children up to 1 year old can play with rattles, teething toys, stacking toys or picture books. Use a small object choking tester, or “choke tube,” to gauge whether or not a toy is safe.
- Children between 1 and 3 years old can play with simple puzzles, crayons, picture books or small wagons.
- Children 3 to 5 years old might enjoy playing with puppets, storybooks or simple board games.
- Children who are between 6 and 9 years old can play with bikes, sports equipment, books, crafts and more complex board games.
- Visit the consumer product safety commission website frequently so you are aware of consumer toy recalls.
Model appropriate behavior.Children learn by watching what others do and emulating that behavior. To help a child learn good behaviors, you'll want to model the actions you want them to copy. Whenever you are with a child, always embody the behaviors, attitudes and manners that you want the child to adopt.
- Modeling can show children how to do things. For example, if a child sees you stacking a pile of blocks, they may begin learning how to stack blocks on their own.
- Be careful with your language. Children will often emulate the speech of the adults around them.
- Modeling is the best way to teach by example.
To interact with children, start by giving them your full attention to show them that you’re listening to and acknowledging them. Then, try playing some age-appropriate games, such as pretending to throw a tea party or singing songs together, to channel their energy into something positive. Additionally, offer them a few choices about what you’re doing to keep them engaged, but don’t offer too many, which can frustrate them. If the child is upset, ask them to help solve the problem to distract them and make them feel better.
Video: How to Speak or Interact with Children
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