"Talking Points" - communicating with young children
We have another great series of posts from veteran educator and interview coach Charlie Margolis - this series will provide teachers and parents with tips for effectively communicating with their young children. How we speak to our children is relevant - here are a few "talking points" from Charlie!
My one and only foray into the world of musical performance occurred when I was in third grade. One spring day, my neighbor and I brought our realistic, plastic instruments to school. I played the silver saxophone and he had an equally authentic, golden trumpet. We played a duet; “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” I must admit, we were quite good, staying in-time and occasionally achieving harmony. That same “dance card” featured one of our classmates, playing her toy flute. Unfortunately, her performance wasn’t quite as successful. She missed notes, stopped and then started over, more than once. While our teacher heaped praise on us, she mercilessly berated our hapless classmate. “You shouldn’t play until you can be proud of yourself, like the boys.” I can still see her red face and feel the heat of her embarrassment. I have no idea if she even remembers third grade, let alone this minor event, but I still do. Words can leave a lasting impression.
Children learn by modeling what they see and hear. This is especially relevant when it comes to how we speak.
If you yell, your children will learn to yell.
If you speak respectfully, they will learn respect.
If you use proper pronunciation and expressive words, children will be taught to be articulate and develop rich vocabularies.
Of course, exactly how you speak to children depends on their age and maturity level. But, there are some general principles that apply to all kids. Here are some “talking points” that may help you communicate with children.
Your Attention Please!
When I give a speech, I pause for several second before I begin. This allows the audience time to settle-down and turn their attention toward the speaker. In my classroom, if students were talking, texting or eating potato chips, I couldn’t teach them. People are encouraged to do many things at once. Multitasking is a myth. Our brains are not “wired” for doing more than one thing at a time. To communicate with your children, you need to get their undivided attention. Turn-off the television, set the computer on sleep mode and put away the cell phone. Help your children to feel like they can talk to you about anything. Initiate conversation by asking questions and demonstrating interest. Sometimes, just allowing children to express what they are feeling and thinking is enough to enlist their cooperation.
The Value of Listening
Listening is one thing we can all do better. Society tends to reward those people who speak the most and - sometimes - the loudest. Listening is undervalued. Between scouts, sports and activities of all kinds, parents and children have less and less time to communicate. Even when we are listening, our minds are distracted by other things. The ability to listen intently is an integral part of emotional intelligence. Nothing says “I appreciate you” like undivided attention. Listening is a sign of respect. Listen not only to the child’s words, but to the message encoded within them. Oftentimes, listening is more important than speaking.
Drama is for Soap Operas
During breakfast, I knocked over the milk container. It went flying and milk covered the counter, cabinets and stove-top. I didn’t utter a word of blame or self-recrimination. Instead, I immediately got a sponge and went about the task of cleaning-up the mess. Drama is for soap operas. Overreaction and dramatization are not effective ways of communicating with children, or anyone else. Instead, remain calm and in control. Do not exaggerate the importance of inconsequential events. Teach children problem solving skills by thinking-through decisions. Be cool!
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Top photo credit: 2011 Dennis Brunelle
Charlie is Executive Director of Interview Image Associates, LLC. The firm specializes in preparing political candidates, pageant contestants, job aspirants and college applicants for interviews, speeches and presentations.