Learning to communicate

As parents/adults, it's in our nature to offer solutions when we spot challenges. We fix problems. It's what we've done for our children since they were babies.  So, what do our children do when they face a problem? They come to us to fix it. Why wouldn't they? We make it all seem so easy. It's natural and it's a sign of a healthy and loving relationship. But at some point, children will need to learn to distinguish between the type of problem they can solve on their own and one with which they need help.

When a child faces a problem, a really effective teaching tool that encourages independence is not to give them an instant solution but, instead, to guide them. To talk through the issue and help them find their own answers.

Consider the question, "How much money will you need to buy three chocolate bars?" We wouldn't ask a two-year-old this question and expect them to understand the underlying concepts. They know what chocolate is and they might even know what money is, but they don't have the tools or language to solve that problem yet.

When a problem is linked to emotions, conversations can be just as challenging if a child doesn't understand the concepts around feelings. They just don't have the tools or language to communicate.  Children often speak about feelings using very limited language to communicate basic concepts.  Some examples might be:

"I'm Happy" - I like this.

"I'm Sad" - I need help.

"I'm Angry" - Leave me alone.

"I'm bored" - Spend time with me.

The next step is for children to begin to explore what type of happy, or what type of angry they feel. How can we do this? A first step can be to explore language around emotions and begin to unpack how we really feel. One way of developing emotional literacy is to use an feelings wheel like the one below. They might need a dictionary to hand to begin with, but once they get the hang of it, you'll be amazed at the difference having these tools can make. If they say they're happy, maybe instead of asking 'why?' you could use the wheel and ask, 'How are you happy today?'

If your child said they were sad, what would your response be?

If they said they felt isolated, would you approach it in the same way as if they had said embarrassed or powerless?

Feel free to use it how you see fit. As always, there is no one right way.