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It’s important to pitch your communication at the right level for your child.

Remember that you’re bigger than your child – so get on your child’s level. Imagine what it feels like to look up at someone every time you speak, or to try to catch someone’s attention from floor level. To help your child hear you, get down where your child is and make eye contact. This sends a signal that you’re listening and that you care about what your child is thinking.

Offer limited choices. Choices give kids a sense of power and control. Instead of saying, ‘Time to get dressed’, you might say, ‘Do you want the red shirt or the blue one?’ Offer two choices, not five or six. You might say, ‘Do you want peas or green beans?’ or ‘Do you want to brush your teeth first or comb your hair?’

Speak as simply as possible. A one-sentence answer might be much more effective than a long explanation. Children are often satisfied with a simple, direct answer that addresses their main concern. A lengthy explanation might confuse or bore your child.

Write notes. Sometimes older kids respond better to a written note than to a verbal nag. You might post this note: ‘Please write down here what time you will be home!’ Or ‘Today is room-cleaning day’. Some kids might enjoy writing lists and charts themselves as a way of solving problems with you.

Use play to transform a struggle into a game
Kids love to play. Instead of saying, ‘You have to brush your teeth NOW and go to bed’, you might say, ‘Should I chase you to the bathroom to brush your teeth, or would you like a piggyback ride?’ While the game might take a few extra minutes, it might save you many minutes of struggle – plus be loads of fun!
– Gillian McNamee, PhD, Director of Teacher Education, Erikson Institute
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  • Last updated or reviewed 27-05-2010
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