Communication with Young Children

Communication with a child is one of the real keys of raising him/her in a respectful, smart, and disciplined manner.  It’s also important to start these keys while a child is young.  In this case, I am describing a young child as being between the ages of 2 and 5 years of age.  The longer ineffective communication is allowed in the home, the harder it is to reel them back in during times of trouble.  Here are some of the strategies and how they work.

1.  Proximity is the key.  Proper communication with toddlers is very difficult across a room.  Therefore if, for example, you are trying to get a child to clean up their blocks in the living room, the direction cannot be given while you are cooking dinner in the kitchen.  Instead, you should be in the room when the direction is given, all distracting media should be turned off, and you should have the child repeat to you the direction you just gave.

The reason this is so important is that you want to give inherent value to your directions.  If you are busy or distracted while giving the direction, the child may not view the direction as important.  Also, children have short memories.  Therefore, if they don’t start acting on the direction you gave in the first few seconds, odds are the direction will not be followed properly- if it is followed at all.

2.  Talk slowly and with a controlled voice.  Parents are the ultimate role models to children (for better or worse) but especially with young children.  Therefore, when communicating with a child, you have to do it in such a way that you would like it seen from your child.  Therefore, talking too fast or with a loud voice only dictates to the child that this is the accepted form of communication in the home.  Over time (and with enough modeling by the parent) the child will get in the same habit when communicating with you, a spouse, or their sibling.  Once a child is in the habit or talking too fast or yelling to make their point, it can be difficult to reverse.  For example, if a 13 year old child has been exposed to this type of communication all of his/her life, a change is not likely to happen soon if at all.  Therefore, model the type of voice you want your child to communicate with while they are young.  You will find the patterns continue when the child ages which will lead to a lot more calmness and sanity even during times of trouble.

3.  Make sure you use age appropriate words.  This is a step often overlooked.  It’s true that we want to expand children’s vocabulary but you can’t throw too much at them at once or the message will be lost.  Lost messages= lack of communication.  Therefore, if a child is acting up in a store, don’t inform them of the oppositional defiance they are demonstrating. Instead, remind them to use an inside voice when asking for the pretty Oreo cookies on the shelf.

I hope you have found this article helpful.  My book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures was written for parents who would like an authority who is working in the trenches to help with children’s challenging situations.  I encourage you to check it out.

Be sure to bookmark this page and I will see you next Friday!


  1. nekky says:

    I was nodding at all the points you made. They are tasted and trusted. I use them and they really work for me. Thank you.

  2. Very helpful post. At this time, my five year old has an attitude with everything we say and most of the time she doesn't listen. I'll have to remember this and check out your older posts.

  3. Rebecca R says:

    Thanks for the wonderful and helpful post. I have a 20 month old and these tips are definitely gonna help me…I tend to become so lost when communicating with her since I have a 13 and 10 year old.

  4. This was great. I find proximity and eye contact to be the most helpful. It helps my child and myself in our communication. I too, get easily distracted and when I am not speaking directly to my children and have been known to forget the directives I've given them when not looking at each other and acknowledging the connection. Eye contact allows both of us to ensure that the message has been given and received.

  5. Dree Getz says:

    I love this. Thanks for the great advice.