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How to communicate with a child, teach respect, love, boundaries and care

Updated on January 1, 2012

Preschool is not too early

The best child, teacher and parent communication is based on love, respect and the need to talk things out.

Parent and child communication is so important. But what is communication, really? Both the child and the parent have needs for love, respect, and self-esteem. Parenting is not an easy job, but it is also not easy being a child. Imagine being smaller than everyone else. Imagine not being allowed to open the refrigerator, call the shots, have no idea what's being served for lunch, what day it is or what mood Mom and Dad are going to be in - will they be attentive or distant? How do you get attention? Be naughty, be funny, be cute - how to get the desired reaction?

We parents have a lot on our plates, but learning how to talk with children is the beginning of it all. Simply talk. You can ask them if they are hungry, thirsty, or need to use the bathroom. Ask if the room is warm enough, are they comfortable, and would they like to take off their coat.

Not only parents, aunts and uncles need to understand this too. Kids need someone to keep an eye out for them. It's OK to say, "You look tired today. Did you have a busy day?" Hillary Clinton once wrote a book, "It takes a village to raise a child." Whether an entire village is necessary, it is certainly true that besides the parents, children need someone on their side.

Unfortunately there is too much emphasis on the terrible problem of sexual abuse between older people and young children, which needs to be addressed, but mostly scares children even more.

Try to put yourself in the child's place. Why are they so difficult today? Is something wrong? Perhaps there was some human relations problem at school. Maybe the teacher didn't understand them and scolded them. Sometimes they don't know how to communicate in a nice way - try to find out what the problem is. Remember, even the criminals in the American justice system get the benefit of the doubt, they are "Innocent until proven guilty". Why not give kids the benefit of the doubt too?


A little love and consideration goes a long, long way.

Sometimes a little hug and a cuddle will work wonders, or a gentle conversation. My son likes to be "tough" but so far, the best way to get past this facade is with a little humor, and he is again warm and approachable.

How to communicate

Try to listen and hear what the child is trying to say. In some cases they will be hoping that you notice irregularities, especially if they are not sure how to mention that they were in a fight at school or that they lost a book at the library. It's up to us to grease the pump and to be sure to not react unreasonably. If something is not right, a punishment may be in order, but the child should be able to make the connection between the crime and the punishment.

Options for better behavior in the future should be discussed. "How do you think would be a better way to do it next time?" Stay serious and expect the best of your child. Children are not stupid. They may be ashamed, have hurt pride, feel that they were justified, be angry, or even vengeful (no one likes to be told that they made a mistake!). Point out that we all make mistakes, that learning lessons is an ongoing process as long as we are alive! The biggest "mistake" is not being able to learn from mistakes. Mistakes "hurt" our pride and that helps us remember them better, hopefully to not have to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Tell them that you did something similar when you were little, and that your mom helped you learn so that you could grow and move on.

It's said that the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result! So let's be humble enough to learn what doesn't work and try a different approach. After all, we are all human beings, some of us have more or less life experience, but the learning process continues.

Promises, promises

Be very careful what you promise a child something, because they will never, ever forget it! And then when they remind you it's OHHHHHH......

I do all I can to keep my answers vague when I am not sure if something will happen or not. I usually say, "We'll see how the day turns out" or "Can't make any promises", or even more frankly, "I have no idea". If it's a pretty much sure thing, I like to use the reward - initiative approach "It depends if you finish your homework on time" .

I try to find out what they really like. What's more appealing, a trip to the beach, the mall, or the roller skating rink? Do they want to have a birthday party at home or go out to dinner with one friend? Do they like meatballs or fish sticks? Sometimes they can't have exactly what they want, no one can, but it's nice to remember for times that they deserve special rewarding!

Communication can be fun, as well as play-acting. I also like to play act with them Pantomime, especially on a long trip, or practice showing emotions "REALLY disappointed" "how about SUPRISED!" and so on.

Money -

This topic requires more conversation, responsibility and choice. I have seen parents, in an attempt to win over their children, throw toys and clothes at them. We all know this, but it bears repeating that love does not mean "things". It means respect, communication, boundaries, and having a long term picture of what is best for the child. If the child thinks unlimited wants will always be fulfilled, you're in for trouble, and so is he or she. Better to learn the lesson now that fulfillment is an inside job. Toys can be given on occasion, like birthdays and special occasions, but not at the drop of a hat or in order to avoid a tantrum.

The key to your child's heart will be harder to unlock as they get older. They love you dearly but their friends are more cool, interesting and we may sometimes be the last to know what their needs, concerns, worries, hopes, fears, interests are. The key to good communicating is to get the ball rolling. Once it starts, there's no telling where it will end.

Giving a child boundaries, providing expectations and rewards reinforces self-confidence and respect towards other people's needs.
Giving a child boundaries, providing expectations and rewards reinforces self-confidence and respect towards other people's needs.

Play a Game - the first fun step in learning to talk with your child

Parents must set the tone

Don't be afraid to limit TV watching - DVD Movies, Play Station - Etc.

With video games, movies and cartoons readily accessible, there are many obstacles to communicating with your children.

It is still a battle, but there are limits - and I use the play station as a carrot. "If you can manage to keep up with your homework, go to soccer practice and do your best - like music, library helper and household chores - of course you can play on the play station for about an hour a day". This seems to work well although he would rather play two hours. I am not too strict but mostly one hour or a bit more than that is the absolute limit.

Setting Boundaries Is Absolutely Essential

Like Disney's Jiminy Cricket, I try to "Always Let My Conscience Be My Guide". Go out just before dark? I think not. Children tend to learn mostly from watching their parents and then generally copy the same behavior. Wake up call! If I were to allow my kids to walk all over me, what would their lives be eventually be like? It would be a shame if their spouses, children or in-laws treated them badly. In fact, it would break my heart! I tell myself daily that I am a good mom (even if they disagree with some of the unpopular decisions) because I have their best interests in mind. The things they are learning now will help them in life on their jobs, in their relationships public and private, and in their private world, their inner thoughts, self control and their self esteem, which is ultimately projected for all the world to see.

Communication is a Two Way Street

Good openings for conversation with a child can be "What's your dolly's name?" Calling them by their first name is great - everyone loves to hear their name spoken. Remember that children are "little people". Someone told me that children are "messengers from the future". We need to respect them as little individuals. Once I smiled and tried to communicate with a one year old. Much to my surprise, she remembered me when we saw each other again in the grocery store!

Trying to engage them in conversation is very much appreciated by them. Often when they see that you are a trusted person who is interested in their welfare, they will approach you naturally and ask you or tell you whatever happens to be on their mind. At this point it's a good idea to engage their parent. Communication is an ongoing thing that we are (I know I am) constantly learning how to improve upon.

Mutual respect

As adults, we must be respected. We are older, have more experience and are in a position to know better, as well as to protect the child. For these reasons, the adults need to be respected. Going "down to their level" in talking to them does not mean that "I am now a child". I usually encourage young children to call me "auntie" which is the custom here in Europe.

Shared Responsibilities

Small jobs around the house include keeping their rooms neat, bed made, dumping out the garbage and buying some groceries when being sent to the store - returning home with the receipt and the change. If agreed upon, they can buy a piece of candy or something but for an agreed-upon amount of money. After all, this is a lesson in stewardship, and it's your - or even moreso - the family's money.

If they want to make some money, there are other options. Sweeping in front of the house, cleaning the windows (it must be a good job, not a half-hearted one) are two choices that my son prefers.

Love and friendship means spending time together. Even if it is not a large amount of time, like 1 or 2 hours a day, let it be qualitative time.

Reading together - a ten minute exercise - can be of great value, pride, and leaves a lasting impression on both parent and child alike. Sometimes it's I'll read one paragraph, you read the next paragraph. Listening to music, enjoying and educating about the various types, teaching a few words or phrases from a foreign language, having a joke time where each person has a turn telling a joke are fine ways of amusement.

Mama's helper

Helping to tear lettuce leaves for a family dinner salad, coloring Easter eggs, and making dough shapes with a rolling pin with dough scraps after making pizza are good ways to teach children that work can often be enjoyable. A small ball of dough like a tangerine or an orange is enough to make a few assorted bread shapes to design and later eat!

The Hyperactive Child

Treat them with love, affection, respect, attention, and show in your face that you are happy to see them. Invite them to come with you. If they treat you disrespectfully, it's important to remind them immediately that YOU are the adult and THEY are the children. In spite of this knowledge, don't be afraid to let them know that they are important and special.

Although he is hyperactive, we communicate very well and he is learning to control his impulses. Instead of following an old script "You know, he can't sit still" or "What do you expect from a hyperactive child?" We challenge new boundaries. High levels of activity are reportedly a sign of high intelligence, since everything in the child's environment appeals and the child is simply reacting to so much stimulus.

I told him that I know it's hard for him, but I fully believe that he will be able to control himself better so that his school experience is rewarding, not just a series of punishments and humiliations. I also told him that I fully expect him to do it, and he has made great progress in this. Before attending a recent grown-up party, we talked about behavior and agreed that he could be an excellent guest. It turns out that people noticed how he had "really grown up", and graciously complimented. This time, it turned out, it was his sister who was the "naughty" one!

Out and About

They know that where Mom is something interesting is bound to happen! Mom is their ambassador to the outside world, and anything is possible. For example, they might get a treat to eat, or some other unexpected surprise, run into a friend from school or the park, Mom is the ticket to all these possibilities and more. For that reason alone, it's a good idea to be on good terms with Mom!

Teach them that in public they can't control the conversation when adults are speaking. If they were naughty in public they can be disciplined later. An appropriate punishment can be to spend "time out" in the corner. I have spanked my son when we returned from an outing when necessary. When either of my children were too demanding that we buy toys at the grocery store, they were not brought along next time. This is for them probably the worst possible option!

Boundaries for Parents as well as for Children

The child parent relationship is like a journey, with its ups, downs, and detours along the way. However, the parents are the ones who can, and should control the tone of the relationship. Mutual respect, boundaries, love, communication are all huge concepts, but we experience them all, every day of our lives. Start with tiny steps, initiate conversation, let them know you care, and don't allow yourself to be stepped upon. By following your example, they too will set the tone in other relationships that they form with their peers.


In case you didn't know, I am not a professional. What I say is simply based my hands-on experience as a mother, sister, aunt, and babysitter. I hope that what I have learned through mistakes and trial and error has helped you in some way.

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    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      excellent hub- thanks!