Photos taken in collaboration with Ang Wei Ming
When you care about someone, you want to know what that person thinks and how that person feels. This is especially so when that person is your own child. Because you love your child, you desire to have this connection.
Having a desire is a good start, but exactly how can you build this connection right from the start?
The early years are formative in laying a strong foundation to support children’s development. Language develops rapidly in the early years, and how you communicate provides a model for your child’s communication ability and style. Help your child find the right words to describe feelings or experiences.
The early years are also when socio-emotional patterns and dispositions are shaped, setting the stage for future interactions and relationships. Relationships are built and nurtured, one conversation at a time.
Conversations are all about communication. In the communication process, we create and share information, views, ideas, and feelings.
During a conversation, be fully present.
It is difficult to listen deeply when you are distracted. Show a genuine interest in what your child is saying through your eye contact, facial expression and tone of voice.
Smiles and nods will help to encourage your child to talk about her thoughts and feelings. When you do this, you send a message that what your child is saying is important and meaningful to you.
In addition to positive feelings of joy, your child may sometimes have uncomfortable feelings like sadness, fear or anger. Being open to talking about all kinds of situations will help your child develop the vocabulary to describe a range of feelings.
Besides listening, you also need to tune in to your child’s body language as this provides non-verbal cues. If your child appears uncomfortable or unusually quiet, you can ask whether anything has happened.
Listen attentively to what your child is trying to share even though you may not always understand every detail.
Active listening involves acknowledging that you have heard correctly. You can echo and paraphrase what your child is saying. Make it a point not to interrupt or finish your child’s sentences.
When your child appears not to understand what you are saying, try using different words. In addition to talking, you can provide visual prompts or demonstrate what you mean through actions.
You may also want to ask questions or offer possible examples to clarify what your child means.
Questions that support quality conversations are often those that require more than a one-word answer. "What", "who", "how", "when" and "why" questions can all be phrased in an open-ended way to extend the quality and depth of conversations.
Examples include questions like:
What are some ways that we could…?
Who might be the persons who could…?
How could we do this differently?
When was a time where…?
Why do you think…?
After you ask a question, give your child time to think and respond. Wait patiently to hear what your child says and resist the temptation to answer your own question. Children need time to find words to express their thoughts, ideas and feelings.
Consider setting aside time for talking and listening at the end of each day.
You could also have a designated family chat time once a week. In these moments, you can also share what you think and how you feel.
For a start, talk about normal, everyday things. If your child gets used to this routine, it will be easier to talk about more difficult issues that may surface in the future.
Good communication involves listening and talking in ways that make your child feel important and valued. This is essential in helping your child to develop skills for communicating with you and others.
Good communication leads to the development of positive relationships, which in turn create precious memories for a lifetime.
Dr Jacqueline Chung is the Academic Director at Anglican Preschool Services, overseeing St. James’ Church Kindergarten and Little Seeds Preschools. She holds a PhD in early childhood education and is an Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) Fellow.