How to talk to children

How to talk to children

Have you ever wondered how to talk to children in a respectful way? Here are some easy tips that will get them talking.

Have you ever been in a room alone with a child and find you suddenly have no clue what to talk about? Maybe you’re a parent who can’t seem to get your child to open up about his day. It can sometimes feel awkward and challenging when we talk to children and lump them into one big category.

Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of children from all walks of life. Admittedly, not all children are forthcoming with information, which makes striking a conversation quite a struggle. However, there are some ways we can bridge the gap and actually find some common ground.

Below are some tips I’ve put together to help you, or anyone struggling, to make conversing with children feel natural, easy and comfortable.

Talk up, not down

I used to get annoyed, as a child, when adults went out of their way to change their tone to speak to me. It was as if I was this cute little puppy they had to fret over. I didn't like it, even though I was getting the attention. It felt forced, and I remember feeling like I was always a separate entity – not part of the natural ‘adult’ conversation going on.

Sometimes when I’m over at Jan & Elly, I like observing parent-child interactions. One thing I’ve noticed is that parents tend to automatically tune their voice an octave or two higher when they speak to children! It is a natural inclination after all. However, while it does work with babies and toddlers, older children tend to prefer being talked up. It makes them feel important and respected.

Children like being talked to like adults, like how you would talk to a friend. They love being part of a conversation, rather than being THE conversation because the pressure is off them!

You could even take it a step further by treating them like mini-adults. They love it when strangers greet them with a handshake, or even when they get to open the door for their classmates. The key is in empowering them, but not letting them dictate the rules.

More effective tips on how to talk to children on the next page...

Be specific

If you want your child to share how his day went, try not to be too vague. A million things goes on at school that questions like “How was school?” can leave a child dumbfounded. We ourselves struggle to answer such questions. What more for a child?

So instead, ask questions such as “Did you like your lunch today?” You can also state things like “I bet you loved playing hide-and-seek with Jeremy”. If your child really did that, he would elaborate. If he didn’t, he would correct you and more often than not, they start spilling every little detail. Try it! It always works!

Go beyond appearances

How often do you catch yourself commenting on a child’s looks or outward appearance? It’s hard not to when children are at that adorable age. But if we as adults, model that we judge people on their appearance, we promote that sort of mentality where looks matter more.

I read an article on Huffington Post some years back about how to talk to little girls. It has stuck with me ever since. It’s one of the best advice I’ve picked up and is useful when talking to all children, girls and boys.

The article encourages us to go way beyond appearance and strike up a conversation about things such as ideas and books. Here is a short excerpt, “Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading…There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain.”

Talk smart

Often, we underestimate a child’s knowledge and limit the topics we talk about with them. Even at dinner, we sometimes refrain from talking about world events when our children are around. It may be because we feel they can’t handle it, or it’s too brutal for them.

Yes, there are sad things going on every day that we read about, but we forget that children see the world through our eyes. It is important that we model a good perspective of whatever it is that’s going on.

Take for example the racial discrimination that flooded our news feeds a while back. Despite the horrific tragedies, there were good deeds that evolved out of it. Play on these good deeds and ask your child how he might feel if he was picked on by his classmates or if he saw a friend being bullied.

Push your child’s limits

As adults, we tend to simplify things for our children, even in the words we use. Instead of truly describing something as it is, we simplify it because we assume it would be easier to understand. However, children are like sponges. This is the time where they absorb and learn things fast and we need to push them out of their comfort zones.

Let’s say we want to portray how terrible an incident was. Instead of saying, “It must have been terrible”, we can say “It must have been devastating.” Let children ponder over it and ask questions. The next time something similar happens, they will be able to accurately inject the word in the right context.


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Written by

Jan & Elly

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