From Playground Fights to Effective Communication
Your child is racing toward a swing on the playground and reaches it at the same moment as another kid. The kid exclaims, “I got here first!” Yours responds, “No, I did. It’s mine!” After this brief exchange, both kids lose their patience. In a fit of frustration, your child kicks the other kid and steals the swing. The other kid is reduced to tears. From our adult perspective, we can think of better ways to resolve this situation that don’t involve kicking and tears. How about taking turns? How about talking it through?
Sometimes teaching kids communication skills can feel harder than calculus. When kids try to communicate, emotions can run high and having a productive conversation is difficult. But assertive communication is an important life skill and can be key in preventing child sexual abuse.
Building strong communication skills will allow your child to maintain healthy boundaries and have a dialogue with you about questions and concerns, especially about sensitive topics. As with anything new, it will take time and practice for kids to learn. Don’t expect the impulse to kick someone on the playground to disappear overnight. But here are some ways you can help communication skills grow regardless of your child’s age.
When your child talks to you, listen and take what they say seriously. It will build their confidence that what they think and say matters. Sometimes kids have strong emotional reactions because they feel like it’s the only way they can get someone’s attention. If your child knows that they can talk and you’ll listen, they won’t need to resort to acting out in unproductive ways. One parenting advisor notes, “Kids naturally seek attention.” If a child craves your attention, “she’s likely to take whatever she can get, even if it’s yelling rather than hugs.”1
Help kids set boundaries
Help your kids set boundaries that make them feel comfortable and safe, and then teach them how to communicate those boundaries to others. They’ll develop assertive communication skills that they can use in lots of situations. Positively reinforce your child’s behavior when you see them setting and maintaining boundaries.
We’ve all experienced the frustration of interacting with the curious five-year-old who won’t stop asking questions, but listening and responding can open up a dialogue. Parenting educator Debra Haffner explains that when a child asks you a question, “they are letting you know that they trust you to give them an honest answer. By saying, ‘I’m glad you asked me that,’ you are letting them know that you want to help them.”2 When kids come to you with questions and concerns, this is a golden moment for you as a parent. Use it as an opportunity to encourage conversation and open a dialogue.
You can empower your child with information, you can help them develop the ability to assertively express themselves, and you can encourage them to see you as someone they can always come to. When they have questions or if something ever happens that makes them uncomfortable, you’ll be someone they can depend on.
- Heidi Raykeil, “Why Kids Misbehave,” Parenting, Vol. 19, No. 9, October 2005.
- Debra W. Haffner, From Diapers to Dating, Newmarket Press, 2008, p. 10.