“Talking With Young Children” Seminar for Bing Parents

By Lars Gustafson, Teacher

On February 10, Bing hosted its annual “Parent Seminar.” At this year’s parent seminar, the presentation focused on talking with young children. Bing teachers offered ideas about communicating effectively, guiding children’s behavior, talking with children about their work and assisting children in their peer interactions.

The event is designed to share the school’s philosophies and teaching methods, and to inspire parents to take some of the ideas home. This year nearly 80 parents took part.

Promoting Effective Communication

Stephanie Holson started by speaking about communicating effectively. She stressed the importance of getting down to children’s level physically and making eye contact. “It lets your child know you’re interested in what they’re saying, and it models how to engage in conversation with others,” said Holson.

In addition to being listened to, children need opportunities to express themselves. Asking open-ended questions, rather

than yes or no questions, encourages this because children have the chance to reflect upon, and express their thoughts.

Parents can also guide their children by using positive statements rather than negative ones. Asking a child, “Please walk,” rather than telling them, “Don’t run,” gives them useful feedback. “They may not know what the appropriate action is, so by telling them what they should be doing, you’re actually helping them learn what they can do,” said Holson. When possible, give children a reason for your request. Even though they may not like the reason, at least they’ll know there is one.

All children, especially those just starting to speak, benefit from having their actions narrated back to them as they play. This allows them to make sense of their movements and gives them the opportunity to link their actions to language.

Holson also pointed out the importance of modeling appropriate grammar, rather than correcting a child’s mistakes. For example when a child says she “‘goed’ to find a book,” adults could respond by saying, “Oh, you went to find a book.”

It’s also helpful to rephrase what children have said to clarify their meaning. This keeps conversations on track and signals that adults are interested in what they are saying. Holson proposed using dinnertime to practice the give and take of conversation. This gives children repeated opportunities to learn how to listen and to be heard.

Guiding Children’s Behavior

Adrienne Lomangino added a perspective on children voicing their ideas and thoughts.

“Young children don’t have a lot of control over their lives,” said Lomangino. “It’s important to think about ways we can give them a sense of control.” One way is to communicate plans to children before they’re carried out. If a day is likely to include a potentially difficult event, tell children so they know what to expect.

When speaking to children, understand the difference between a question and a statement. Asking children if they are ready for bed is different from telling them it’s bedtime. If you ask them, they may tell you that they are not ready, so if you need them to go to bed tell them it’s time to do so. If this creates a problem, give them a choice. Let them know that if they are not ready now they can wait five more minutes.

Giving children limited, appropriate and feasible choices helps them feel a greater sense of control. “Children are easily overwhelmed with too many choices. Just giving them two, maybe three, choices is a good amount they can focus on,” she explained.

Lomangino recognized the difficulty parents sometimes have with limit setting. However, when children are unable to get what they want they have an opportunity to develop coping skills and resiliency.

When children don’t like a boundary, it’s helpful to recognize their feelings, but make sure to remain firm about what it is that’s not OK. Tell them succinctly why you are establishing a boundary.

When it’s necessary, be ready to follow through with appropriate consequences. These should be timely, related to the situation and feasible. For instance, if a child is throwing sand after being asked to keep the sand on the ground, it may be time to redirect the child to another activity.

Lomangino encouraged reflecting on these instances and being open to revisiting the decisions later. “Think about these situations as learning opportunities for your child and for you,” she said. “You’re helping your child learn what it means to be a part of this community or family. You’re also learning a lot about yourself while interacting with your child.”

Talking With Children About Their Work

Lars Gustafson discussed the ways parents can encourage meaningful two-way communication with children who are working.

One effective strategy is to highlight the process as well as the product. “It gives children the idea that you’re invested in their work, that what they’re doing and how they’re doing it is very valuable to you,” he said. Ask open-ended questions about children’s art work. Point out the colors and features within. Open up a dialogue and promote children’s understanding of the connection between their effort and their accomplishment.

“Every material and every action has an inherent language. Try to utilize that language,” Gustafson said. When talking about painting, point out the brush strokes and balance of the image on paper. When a child is solving a puzzle, talk about the shapes and images on the pieces, he said.

Children’s creations aren’t necessarily representational. Children move through developmental stages in their work—in the earlier stages, they might simply be exploring the qualities of the medium.

Gustafson emphasized the importance of being surprised by children and delighting in their growth. They benefit when adults let them know they value their progress, he said.

Talking About Interactions With Others

Mark Mabry relayed his thoughts on the difficulties children might encounter as they learn how to interact with their peers.

As children grow, they become more interested in each other but they might not have a good repertoire of strategies for interacting. It’s up to adults to understand what their needs are and to help them interpret the world.

Yet it’s often hard to know when to help manage this process rather than stepping back and letting a child take the lead.

Strategies can vary among children of different ages, temperaments, moods and many other factors. Social learning is a process, and as a result, parents might revisit certain scenarios repeatedly before their child is able to navigate the situation independently. “Eventually they get there,” Mabry said.

When children are upset and need parents’ help working through conflict, it helps for parents to promote a positive outlook. “You want to be an advocate for your child, while at same time you want to help them feel like they can make this better,” he said.

Modeling a scenario, like asking someone to “please pass the pencil,” shows children the appropriate language they can use on their own. “It’s those little things they’re looking to you for that will actually tell them something about the social world,” said Mabry.

Parent Questions

The evening concluded with a question and answer session.

One parent asked how to better understand his child when her articulation is unclear. The teachers assured him that this was a common occurrence, especially with younger children. They offered the idea of encouraging her to say more. This lets the child know that you’re interested in what she’s saying, and gives the listener more language from which to discern meaning.

Another parent wondered how to support his child when the child asserts something is true when it’s not. The teachers described this situation as a good opportunity to find a reference book and explore the answer together. Chances are he will enjoy the time he spends searching with his parent, and he will learn to rely upon books for information.

Several parents wanted to know how they could help their children persevere through perfectionism. The teachers underscored the importance of recognizing the child’s feelings and frustrations, and telling the child you appreciate how hard they’re working. Assure them you want to help, and try to lighten up the situation with humor. If they’re still upset and can’t find a solution, it might be appropriate to take a break from the activity and return to it later.

What to do when a child acts out physically due to frustration? Create meaningful consequences that teach a lesson. If a child is throwing toys, put them away. If a child is hitting her mother, tell her it’s not OK, and redirect her until she’s able to regain her self-control. Is it appropriate to give children a timeout? It might be: The main goal should be to give them time to calm down. Parents know their child best and know what works and what doesn’t.