Thinking Out Loud

Connecting With Kids

The world of childhood seems far away to some, and yet to others is so accessible. We were all once children, but when we cross the divide into adulthood, our memories reconfigure. For some the connection to childhood, and thus to children is very natural. Others find it foreign and awkward. Connecting to and communicating with kids, and being comfortable in their presence can be confusing.

Here are ten principles to keep in mind when relating to kids.

  1. Remember what it is like being a child: Pick an age. Remember who your teacher was in that grade. How did you feel being around that teacher? What did you like to do when you were playing by yourself or with other kids? Try to listen to your voice. Imagine yourself outside walking up to your house, ready to go inside.
  2. Be curious about what lives in the child’s imagination: Think about a child you know. What do they enjoy doing? Which books do they like? Have they told you about their dreams? What would they like to be when they grow up?
  3. Listen a little bit longer than you think you should: Learning to ask open ended questions, rather than yes/no questions can help. Don’t be afraid of silence (take a deep breath). Share something (briefly) about yourself that relates to the discussion.
  4. Don’t be afraid to answer questions directly: Sometimes this means saying, “I don’t know.” If it’s a question that seems pretty sophisticated for the child, asking how the question came up can help clarify the child’s need. Don’t be afraid to come back to the question after you’ve had the initial discussion to offer further clarity or find out how the child processed your answer.
  5. Don’t be afraid of humor: Be careful of sarcasm, but kids enjoy humor. The friendliness of humor can be relaxing and communicate acceptance.
  6. Think about how the child perceives you: Adults represent authority to kids. Their relationship to the authority figures in their lives will likely carry over to their perception of other adults. Does, or could, the child perceive you as an authority figure? This can strongly influence the child’s comfort level with you.
  7. Think of how you can relate person-to-person: Although you are an authority figure, can you genuinely project a feeling of equality to the child? Can the child sense a feeling of respect and emotional safety when communicating with you?
  8. Consider what your eyes say when you meet and greet the child: How we see other people is reflected in our eyes. Children are very sensitive to this phenomenon. When you are looking at the child, do you see a person or just another kid or a cute little creature?
  9. Let the child know who you are: Are you in the role of adult or are you able to be yourself? Do you project infallibility or another human being with gifts and flaws, clarity and uncertainty? Being real is something kids sense and respect.
  10. Notice what the child is noticing: This is critical, especially for parents, and may be the most important part of parenting. It is part of paying attention—noticing what the child is noticing—and acknowledging that observation. It starts in infancy with comments like, “Oh, you heard that sound, didn’t you. That was the door bell.” Noticing and commenting in this manner maintains the emotional connection with the child and gives them a frame of reference for their observations. Children are in a constant state of making sense of the world around them. It is our job to participate in that task in a thoughtful and sensitive way.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It is offered to help stimulate your awareness and suggest ways of fostering better communication with kids. It’s always about the relationship, and relationships always challenge us.

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