Magic Words – 10 Ways to Help Communication With Your Toddler

  • Acknowledge and identify feelings: “I notice that you are mad. Is that because Ben took the truck away from you?” – Let’s the child know that his feelings have been heard by us. Recognizing and responding to needs and wants expressed through feelings changes a child’s behavior.
  • Interpret the experience: “It looks like you both want the truck” – Let’s the child know that someone understands him, instead of saying “Your brother wants the truck”, offer an interpretation.
  • Report the observation: “You would like the truck but Ben took it from you” – Let’s the child process the situation
  • Repeat the “complaint” – “You said the bike is not working”: Along the same lines as the above two, repeating the complaint not only makes the child feel heard, it also gives adult time to think about next steps.
  • Ask questions – “How is it broken?” “Why won’t it go?” What would like to happen now?” Asking a question stimulates thinking and reduces stress to the brain allowing for (better) problem solving and decision making. Don’t immediately suggest an option to solve the problem. Allow the child(ren) time to think about how to solve the problem offer solutions and feel capable.
  • Wait for the Answer – Don’t ask a question and then let the child run away or you or the child get distracted by something. Ask the question and wait for and expect an answer. If the child runs away, bring him back into the situation by saying, “I asked XYZ, what is your answer?”
  • End a Question with a Question – If you ask the child “Would you like to share the truck with Ben?” and he says, “No”, continue by asking, “How do you think that makes Ben feel?” or “When can Ben play with the truck?”
  • Model Thinking – We all sometimes talk to ourselves out loud. Modeling thinking is similar. Say something like, “I think Ben & Ethan will probably find a way to solve the problem.”
  • Respect children’s wants and needs– Never force a child to share his things. If he is playing with a truck and his brother takes that truck away, instead of requesting that he share the truck, ask him and if he says, “no”, ask him when he might be ready to share his truck. Children can be very generous when given the opportunity to do so.
  • Facilitate peaceful decision-making – Keep the problem within the children. Guide them to solve the problem together. Don’t solve it for them.

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