Communication with babies and children: why it’s important
From birth, warm, gentle and responsive communication helps babies and children feel safe and secure in their worlds. It also builds and strengthens relationships between children and their parents or carers.
To grow and develop skills, children need safety, security and strong relationships, so communicating well with children is essential to development.
Good communication with babies and children: what is it?
Good communication is:
- giving your child your full attention when you’re communicating with each other
- encouraging your child to talk with you about what they’re feeling and thinking
- listening and responding in a sensitive way to everything your child talks about – not just nice things or good news, but also emotions like anger, embarrassment, sadness and fear
- focusing on body language and tone as well as words so you can really understand what your child is trying to express
- using your own body language to show that you’re interested in what your child wants to share with you
- taking into account what your child can understand and how long they can pay attention.
You can develop and encourage good communication from birth by having ‘conversations’ with your newborn. Say something and then pause, as if you’re waiting for your baby to speak. And when your baby gets older and starts babbling, you can babble back and see whether you get a response.
Developing good communication with babies and children: tips
When you work on developing good communication with your child, it helps your child to develop skills for communicating with you and other people. It also builds your relationship, because it sends your child the message that you value their thoughts and feelings.
Here are ideas:
- Set aside time for talking and listening to each other. Family meals can be a great time to do this.
- Turn off phones, computers and televisions when you and your child are communicating. This shows that you’re completely focused on the interaction or conversation you’re having with your child.
- Talk about everyday things as you go through your day. If you and your child are used to communicating a lot, it can make it easier to talk when big or tricky issues come up.
- Be open to talking about all kinds of feelings, including anger, joy, frustration, fear and anxiety. This helps your child develop a ‘feelings vocabulary’. If you or your child is angry, wait until you’ve calmed down before you talk about anything.
- Tune in to what your child’s body language is telling you, and try to respond to non-verbal messages too. For example, ‘You’re very quiet this afternoon. Did something happen at school?’
- Involve your child in conversations. This could be as simple as asking, ‘What do you think about that, Gabriel?’
Be ready to stop what you’re doing and listen to your child. Often you can’t predict when your child will start talking about something important to them. It might be when they get home from school, in the car, at dinner or as they’re settling down to sleep.
Active listening with children: tips
Active listening is key to good communication and great for your relationship with your child. That’s because active listening shows your child that you care and are interested in them. It can also help you learn and understand more about what’s going on in your child’s life.
Here’s how to do active listening with your child:
- Use body language to show you’re listening. For example, crouch down so you’re at your child’s level. Face your child and make eye contact. Show you’re listening by turning to look at your child and getting close to them.
- Watch your child’s facial expressions and body language. Listening isn’t just about hearing words. It’s also about trying to understand what’s behind those words.
- Build on what your child is telling you and show your interest by saying things like ‘Tell me more about ...’, ‘Really!’ and ‘Go on ...’.
- Prompt your child to tell you how they feel by describing what you think they’re feeling. For example, ‘It sounds like you felt left out when Felix wanted to play with the other kids at lunch’. Be prepared to get this wrong, and ask your child to help you understand.
- Repeat or rephrase what your child has said from time to time. This lets your child know you’re listening and helps you check that you understand what your child is saying.
- Avoid interrupting or finishing sentences, even when your child says something strange or is having trouble finding words.
- Don’t rush into problem-solving. Your child might just want you to listen and show that you value their feelings and point of view.
When you show your child how to be a good listener, you help your child develop their listening skills too.
Encouraging your child to listen: tips
Children often need some help learning to listen, as well as some gentle reminders about letting other people talk. Here are ideas to help with your child’s listening skills:
- Be a good role model. Your child learns how to communicate by watching you carefully. When you talk with your child (and others) in a respectful way, this gives a powerful message about positive communication.
- Let your child finish talking and then respond. This sets a good example of listening for your child.
- Use language and ideas that your child will understand. It can be hard for your child to keep paying attention if they don’t understand what you’re talking about.
- Make instructions and requests simple and clear to match your child’s age and ability.
- If you need to give constructive feedback, say something positive at the same time. Your child is more likely to listen to praise than to correction or blame. For example, ‘You’re usually so good at remembering to put your lunch box in the dishwasher. Could you remember tomorrow please?’