Children Talk: How to Help your Child Communicate Better

We can often be caught by a child’s reply of “I don’t know” (or ‘dunno’) when asked something.

I was working with a child recently and I’d ask him about his recent holiday; questions about what he enjoyed or what he had done. To most all of the questions I got a “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” reply. There were somethings he did recall, but he was muddled over the times and places. The boy was 7 and it’s not uncommon to find that recollection can be patchy — it was more this than a desire not to engage.

So I tried a different approach that I wanted to share with you which parents, carers and grandparents might find dun to try out and see what responses they get.

A shift of perspective, or seeing it through someone else’s eyes, can provide the necessary starting point to some viable solutions

It was and is my belief that we, at any age, are constantly taking in information and processing at perhaps a conscious but certainly at a unconscious level. So I started from the belief that the information was in there, somewhere. It was just about accessing it.

What can be surprising in coaching or therapy work is that in our position as ‘I’ we struggle to see the resources necessary to move us to the desired state. However, ask what a friend, a family member or even a character from a film would do and a client can often list a variety of options. A shift of perspective, or seeing it through someone else’s eyes, can provide the necessary starting point to some viable solutions. It’s this idea that I thought you might enjoy understanding more.

This approach generated a more useful response when I changed the question from, “What did you enjoy the most on holiday?” to “What do you think your sister would remember you enjoying the most — what would she say?”

Asking this question, got a quick reply, “Spending time with my cousins”.

Boom!

And so with this question and other variations (“What do you think your parents would say?” etc) we extracted a picture of his holiday season.

Remain mindful to consider different approaches when given a not very useful response.

As I’ve written before, it’s curious how a little change of words in a question can make a dramatic affect. By loosening up the language to allow for speculation can often help a child come up with an answer. What if we changed the verb ‘can’ to ‘could’? Do you notice a different sensation when you say:

“What can you do about it?”

compared to,

“What could you do about it?”

Both questions are looking for options to answer a particular situation. Yet one, ‘could’, you may have noticed, feels a little looser than ‘can’. If I ask you what could you do, invites multiple suggestions whereas can is looking for less options. Apply this to out scenario:

“What do you think your sister would remember you enjoying the most — what could she say?”

You may also consider adding: “Take a guess”, it opens up even more speculation. In my experience this can result it some useful answers and gets communication flowing.

What I’m proposing is that we remain mindful to consider different approaches when given a not very useful response. I’d invite you to see it as a game or a maze — how do you get to the centre? This can often be some of the more rewarding moments as we find the route that captures their memories.


As always, find what works for you and discard what doesn’t — parenting is bespoke so discover your best blend.


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