Clever communication with kids


Carol Olafson
Focus on Adoption magazine
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Children, especially those who are under stress or who have a learning disability, can easily feel overwhelmed by the amount of language being thrown in their direction, or by their inability to process what is being said. Here are some tips on how to reduce your child’s frustration, and increase your success.

Don’t Talk Too Much!
When giving an instruction to your child, keep it short (5-8 words) and specific. Don’t say, “Joe, it’s almost bedtime, it’s time to clean up, you need to start putting your toys away.” Do say, “Put your toys in the toybox.” Avoid overwhelming a child with multiple instructions—give one task at a time.

Be Consistent
If there is more than one caregiver involved with your child, come up with common strategies and sentences that everyone can use. Post these in rooms as reminders. Share any strategies you use with your child’s teacher or learning assistant. Ask all caregivers to be consistent in their use of language.

Attention Please
Make sure that when you give an instruction to your child, you have his attention first. Try not to call out instructions from another room. If possible, state the behavior you do want. Instead of saying, “Don’t dump your coat on the floor,” say, “Hang your coat up.” Avoid lectures. Lecturing will only make everyone upset, and often escalates negative behavior.

Follow Through
Only give instructions that you are willing and able to follow through on, and give instructions once. If your child doesn’t follow through, repeat it, and immediately, calmly, make him follow through. This is assuming that he understands what you expect of him! Give praise for follow through. Make consequences logical, reasonable, and understandable—it’s very appropriate to lose your toy if you use it to knock your brother around.

Don’t Try to Reason
Avoid trying to reason your child into cooperation: long-winded explanations often frustrate children and do nothing to change behavior.

Use Visual Aides
Use visual aids if helpful. Some children benefit from a colourful action strip showing the steps that they need to do. For example, you might say, “It’s time to brush your teeth,” then show your child a series of pictures depicting bathroom, toothbrush with toothpaste, and a child brushing teeth.

Marking Time
Many children have a poor concept of time and have difficulty shifting tasks. To have an activity disrupted without warning can often trigger a meltdown. If your child understands time passing, give a verbal warning. “In five minutes, playtime is finished.” For those children who don’t, a visual countdown strip can be helpful. Mark three to five boxes on a row or column. Laminate the column. At one end, Velcro a drawing of the event that’s coming up (mealtime, bedtime, outings, etcetera). As each minute before playtime passes, put a big Velcro dot on it and say, “Five minutes left to play,” etc. This allows your child to literally see that playtime is coming to an end, and to prepare for shifting tasks.

Try time-ins
Adopted children often have very realistic fears of abandonment. If your child has such fears, don’t use time-out. Instead, modify time-out to mean sitting on a chair in the same room as you. While the child is sitting in time-out, don’t let him play. Don’t keep adding time or restarting if he tantrums in the chair. Ignore screaming. When the time is up and the child is calm, let play resume. Praise the child for calming down.

It takes time
Most of all, be patient with yourself—learning new habits is not easy. Try to have a sense of humor: parenting is a tough job, and no one is perfect at it.

When You Need More Help
If you are working with a behavioral consultant, make sure that he or she has an understanding of attachment and adoption issues, as well as emotional development versus cognitive development. It is totally appropriate to ask about a consultant’s training and experience, including knowledge of your child’s disability.

Carol Olafson helps parents with parenting coaching and strategies.