Toddler Tips: Respectful Communication

Respectful, open relationships between family members are probably every parent’s goal, but they take a lot of hard work to achieve.  And it’s never too early to start.  By laying the foundations with your toddler through your everyday interactions, you’re setting the stage for better relationships later, when crucial issues are at stake.  As your toddler’s language skills grow, here are a few tips for respectful communication.

  • Don’t ask questions if you know the answer.  You’re either forcing them to lie or incriminate themselves, or you’re making conversation a test and a risk for them. Instead of “Did you draw on the wall?” say “Oh no! Marker on the walls!. Let’s try to clean it up.  Here’s the sponge.”  Instead of “What color is this?” say, “Oh, you’re drawing with the BLUE crayon now.” to help your child learn colors.  If you want to play a questioning game with your baby, you might say, “Want to play, ‘What does the doggie say?’”
  • Don’t force your child to tell people things.  “Tell Grandpa where you went yesterday!”  You will end up telling Grandpa yourself anyway, and your toddler will feel put on the spot.  Instead, try, “Ryan went to the zoo yesterday!” and let Grandpa and Ryan guide the conversation from there.
  • Get down to your child’s level when you converse with her.  Then you can make real eye contact and show her you’re really listening.
  • Tell your toddler your plans for him.  Toddlers are victim enough to adult plans and schedules.  The least we can do is inform them.  “We’re going to the grocery store now.”  “I’m going to change your diapers when we go inside.”  “I’ll make a phone call while you eat your lunch.  Then we can read a story.”  Imagine how you might feel all strapped up in a carseat with no idea where you are going or for how long.
  • Avoid shaming or name calling.  Instead, give him information or positive requests.  Rather than “Bad boy!” try “Wall are not for writing on.  You may write on the paper only.”  Rather than “You know better...” try “This is breakable.  It’s just for looking at.”  Rather than “That was mean!” try “This is Sarah’s turn for a hug.  Your turn in a minute.”

You may find, as I do, that when I try to remember too many things at once, I fail at all of them.  If any of these ideas appeal to you, you might try working on one at a time.  This week get down to his level, and then when you’re finding that becoming automatic, try working on asking questions more effectively.

by Justine Saffir