Communicating with Children


As a trainer, I’ve been previledged to work with hundreds of school children in various schools throughout my career. Together with being an uncle and elder cousin to several younger members of the family, I’ve been blessed with being in the unique position to work and empower children in both my professional and personal capacities.

Although young and impressionable, working with young children does not come without it’s own set of challenges. Like most adults, many children can be stubborn and deeply set in their mindsets as well. As the saying goes, habits once formed are hard to change. There’s even a saying in the Bible that relates to habits and their influence in our lives. The book of Proverbs (22:6) even states that “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Lots of books have been written by adults on how we should discipline and teach our children. I think many of them are useful. But there are two things which I read which stood out as particularly useful, and I’ve used to great effect in teaching children. The key, I feel, does not necessarily lie on what we do. It’s HOW we do it. It’s all about communication!

A close friend and psychologist friend of mine once shared with me about his work with parents. Now most kids dislike (to put it mildly!) going to school. But of ccourse, they go anyway. My friend told me that most children aren’t really going to school because they want to learn. Why do they go to school for then? Perhaps I should rephrase that question: Who are they going to school for? For whom are they working their hearts out for to achieve better grades?

Themselves? Perhaps. But do you suppose a 7-year old child who’s just begun going to school thinks that? No. As most of you would have guessed it, it’s for their parents.

Now most parents would protest by saying that they’re doing it for “the child’s own good!” I can’t protest with that. As a matter a fact, I support that with both hands up! But, is there a better way to do it? Is there a better way of getting children to do what we’d like them to do?

Definitely!

I think A lot has got to do with how we communicate our ideas to them.

1) Think about what THEY want!

I recalled a story of how a man once faced extreme difficulty in getting his second son to start going to nursery. No amount of threatening and coaxing was enough to get a ‘yes’ out of his son. Alex, the father wondered if there was something else he and his wife hadn’t try. He begain wondering about what were the things that could make his son want to go to school… and came up with an idea.

Alex gathered his wife and elder son together in the kitchen and begain playing with paint and painting. They laughed and had pretty much fun with the activity. Curious about the laughter, Brian (the second son) sneaked to peek around the kitchen wall to see his entire family having loads of fun with paint! When he requested to join in the fun, guess what was Alex’s reply?

“No! You’ve got to go to school to learn that!”

No prize for guessing who got up extra early the next day in his school uniform.

The technique/principle could be applied in educating children to follow positive behaviour too.

There was a time when my niece disliked going to school because of a selfish friend in her class. She told me of how her friend hoards all the toys in class and demands that others play with her whenever she wants.

I asked her if she like her ‘friend’. Not surprisingly, She replied no. I followed up my question by asking her if she’d like to be as unpopular and disliked by other people like her ‘friend’. ‘No’ came quickly too. That set the stage for my main message “do not be selfish if you do not want to be unpopular” and “good people have good friends”!

Everybody wants the good things in life. Understanding what children (and people even) perceive and accept as good is a fundamental key in helping us change behaviours.

2) Respect

The second useful and powerful tool which I often use is respecting my young learners.

I know sometimes it could be difficult to place importance on items and behaviours which we deem insignificant and immmature. But there’s a difference between disagreeing with the means and disrespecting the person. No doubt we can disapprove of negative behaviour, but we should always respect the person – even if they’re just 10 years old!

Showing respect to children can be tough, as mentioned above. However, there are subtle methods which we can utilise to emphasize their position of importance in our lives. And these are welcomed gestures!

As an uncle dealing with exceptionally young children, there’s a routine I’d like to do, and that is I’d always take the trouble to match myself physically to the child’s height. I ususally do this in two ways. The first is by lifting up the child in my arms. The second, and most frequently used, is to bend my knees to squat or kneel.

Talking to a child at eye level takes work. It takes away our physical superiority and dispels any sense of apprehension that the child may have towards us. This induces a sense of comfort and security and allows the child to better express his ideas and thoughts with any fear of attack or rebuttle. In addition, the fact that it takes work on our part, is a subconscious signal to the child that they are important people in our lives and that in turn, fosters an invaluable sense of trust that will form the bedrock of the parent-child relationship for years to come!

Lastly, the following method I frequently use is a hybrid between showing respect and knowing what the child wants. .

For example, if I expect the class of ‘young leaders’ to lead and make the right decision for their group, I’ll leave the decision making to the leaders. My role as a trainer and adult would be merely to explain the pros and cons of the various options available and allow them to make the choice. Of course, they make the wrong ones sometimes. But hey, that’s part of life isn’t it? The most important thing, however, is that they learn the most out of it! Better still if we’re around to guide them… and that they would be WILLING to listen to us.

And it’s obvious! Any rational human being will select the options which are most advantagous to them! More importantly, it’s the need to live up to the trust and expectations that I’ve placed in them that motivates the child to function.

The two principles and techniques which I’ve mentioned above are useful skills which I’ve utilised in my dealings with children and young adults. For me they have worked wonders in in my coaching career.

Interestingly however, in my observation knowing what children want, explaining and bestowing the sense of importance and respect on them seems to be excessively inadequately done by adults.

It’s time to do something about it. And it begins with YOU!!!

Try it!

What would your success story be?

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