“Who made communication so hard?”
Such a wise question from a child. I simply responded, “Everyone sweet girl, everyone.”
Last month, I wrote about how to communicate effectively with children from birth through age 6. This month we will explore how to best communicate with children 7 through 10 years of age.
If I could define this age in one word it would “explorers”. The ability to solve problems, comprehend cause and effect, and take responsibility for their actions emerge in this stage of life. These children are fully excited by the world around them and want to ex-perience all of it. The primary role of parents in this stage is to “encourage”. It is vital for you to encourage (without judgement) their exploration of interests, friends, and extra-curricular activities.
Sadly, the emotional immaturity and sensitivity at this age too often leave children feeling discouraged. I hope these four simple rules will help you as you navigate this tight rope.
First, watch your body language. Make sure you are affirming with your face, body, and words. When possible, look at your child when they are talking to you and give her all of your attention. Make sure you devote a portion of each day to this. Most parents do this at bedtime, but find what works best for you and your family.
Second, show empathy. Empathy is when you put yourself in another person’s shoes. Remind yourself what it was like to be 8 years old. When your parents would not let play outside after dark or forced you to visit family instead of going to your best friend’s birthday party. You can empathize with your child’s frustration without giving into it. One of the best ways to empathize is to tell your child a story from your own childhood so they know they are not alone.
Third, delay correction. Resist the urge to resolve the situation and let your child present possible solutions. You will be pleasant-ly surprised by some of his solutions. Also, you will be meeting your child right where he is developing new skills.
Fourth, avoid shaming language at all costs. When people feel shame, they believe they are inherently broken. Be careful to ad-dress your child’s behavior without attacking her as a person. Instead of, “You are so clumsy!” when your child spills her drink say, “You need to be more careful carrying your drink.” It is also essential for parents to not shame others. For example, if you see a man yelling at a cashier, talk to your children about how he is handling his anger inappropriately instead of simply saying, “He is a really mean man.”
My favorite way to communicate challenging lessons effectively with children at this stage is through stories. Intentionally watch movies, read books, and discuss people who overcame difficult situations and failures. Especially if you can find a story that relates to specific areas where your child needs to grow as a person. Stories of other people allow children to learn while bypassing their emotional sensitivities and insecurities.
The most important thing to remember is that you cannot stop being their biggest cheer-leader when they become discouraged. You can always find something to brag about. If your child is the least athletic person on the field, brag about him being the nicest in the dugout. If your child falls at the dance recital, reward her for getting up and trying again. Do whatever you can to constantly encourage them to continue exploring.