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Crouching parent, better children

Communicating with a toddler is not always easy. Between throwing tantrums, having a short attention span, and not being able to speak in full sentences, it can be difficult to understand what they want. And, because it is also hard for them to comprehend clearly what adults are saying to them, there is a high chance that parents might send them the wrong message.

Crouching parent, better children

Parents can ensure that they are giving the right signals to their toddler by communicating with them not just clearly but effectively too — One parenting ‘trick’ that achieves these goals is crouching down to the toddler’s level when talking to them. Photo: Reuters

Communicating with a toddler is not always easy. Between throwing tantrums, having a short attention span, and not being able to speak in full sentences, it can be difficult to understand what they want. And, because it is also hard for them to comprehend clearly what adults are saying to them, there is a high chance that parents might send them the wrong message.

So it is up to parents to ensure that they are giving the right signals to their toddler by communicating with them not just clearly, but effectively. One parenting ‘trick’ that achieves these goals and is also simple to follow — but that not every parent practices — is crouching down to your toddler’s level when talking to them. Even Prince William and wife Kate Middleton have been seen doing it with their three-year-old son, Prince George.

“The reason parents should do this is so that we are speaking to the child at eye level,” said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital. “By looking at them eye to eye, we are catching the attention of the toddler, and they are more likely to be able to absorb what is told to them. It is also less intimidating than if the adult is talking down to them.”

“When we go down to their level, we give them our full attention,” explained Swanie Khoo, a marriage and family therapist at Relationship Matters (www.relationshipmatters.com.sg). “The message is, ‘You are coming to me, you are important, and I want to respond to you’. You are being emotionally present with the child, and this action sends a lot of messages to them.”

BUILDING EMPATHY


The first three years of a child’s life are critical to building a positive parent-child relationship, said Swanie, and this will also lead to the child’s desire to form emotional relationships with other people as well as maintain them in his later years.

“It helps to build empathy, as a child will learn to be caring when they see how a parent cares for them,” she said. “It’s also a way to positively discipline a child. Discipline should involve going down to their level to get their attention, instead of shouting at them from a higher level. It’s the start of building positive discipline.”

While this action has the benefit of building a parent-child relationship, it also simply ensures that your child is listening to you. “Toddlers tend to have poorer attention spans and, if not spoken to at eye level, they may not be listening,” pointed out Dr Lim. “By having the discipline to speak to children at eye level consistently and, in doing so, actively listening, parents are also indicating an interest in what children may have to say. This allows for mutual respect and will improve communication in the long run.

“When a child is able to receive instructions more clearly, he is less likely to be punished or to get punitive reactions from his parents,” Dr Lim continued. “This aids him in having more positive feelings. Furthermore, a child who has parents who put in the effort towards positive parenting will definitely feel more loved and cared for. This, in turn, allows for better self esteem.”

ACTIVE LISTENING


Crouching down to talk to your toddler basically involves active listening. And it might not always have to be an effort to squat to their level — you can carry the child, then speak to them, or both take a seat so you can speak to your child at eye level.

“Listening is one of the most important ways of giving children positive attention, and also a way of building a child’s confidence in themselves,” Swanie explained. “When we’re listening, we’re encouraging them to talk and helping them to express their feelings. Listening is the first step, and active listening should be part and parcel of it — stop what you’re doing and go down to their level.”

Other tips for communicating better with your toddler include not interrupting them and being patient instead, as toddlers are learning to communicate and will need time to express themselves.

Dr Lim also suggested not correcting the child’s grammar or pronunciation as this will stop him from wanting to talk. “Be encouraging, but avoid inappropriately praising the child,” he said. “Encourage your child by saying things like, ‘I really like it that you tell me how you feel rather than just crying’. Avoid saying things like, ‘Wah boy boy so clever, can talk so much.’”

Swanie recommends communicating with your child from an early age. “It starts with positive bonding when they’re infants. Talk to them, even at that age. When they start to move around, that’s when parents get irritable as they can’t keep the child down and have to follow the kid around, so it becomes a very highly stimulated environment. But when you start communicating at an early stage, it continues to a later age too.

“If you missed that in their early years, it’s not too late to start now,” she added. “Encourage your child, set time to play together, getting down to their level. Do things that they like to do. Have special one-to-one alone time, going for walks together or teaching the child to do something. It’s all about communicating and building relationships with them, with positive listening.”

 

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