Communication skills when talking to children

Posted on: 12.04.2021.

Author: mjug

Talking to children is not much different from talking to peers or older persons, but often adults do not see the child as an equal interlocutor, which can lead to misunderstandings in communication, wrong conclusions on both sides and unpleasant emotions. Of course, a conversation with a child needs to be adapted to their age, but this does not mean that a 5- or 9-year old child does not have their own needs and demands as well.

We should keep in mind that preschool and early school age children do not yet have the developed cognitive capacities necessary to clearly express their own desires and needs, just as they do not have a sufficiently developed emotional maturity to be able to control their own emotions and emotional reactions.

It is for this reason that a prerequisite for good parent - child  communication is that a parent has control over their own emotions, reactions and words.

Steps in establishing healthy communication with children 

1. Use empathy in conversation

Empathy refers to the ability to vicariously experience another person's situation and to understand their position based on the observed or imagined situation. It contains an emotional and cognitive component - feeling the feelings of others and intellectually understanding the feelings.

2. Learn the technique of empathic reflection

By using empathic reflection, we show understanding for the child and convey the message of accepting the child’s feelings and needs. Reflection refers to the “mirroring” of what we experience from the interlocutor, that is, the person listens attentively to the other person, harmonizes with them and reflects what they have heard

Different emotions are reflected in different ways:

✧ SADNESS - express compassion in a gentle voice, provide comfort. No need to cheer up the child 

✧ ANGER - reflect in a serious, clear voice, the child's emotional need is to be taken seriously and listened to

✧ FEAR - a serious voice that provides security and protection 

✧ HAPPINESS - show vitality and contentment 

We can reflect thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. 

Thoughts: "It seems to me you don't like that assignment?" (when a child doesn't want to perform school assignments)

"Looks as if you don't feel like going to the sport practice today?" (when a child objects to attending a practice of a certain hobby) 

Behavior: "You are spinning the pencil between your fingers..."

"You're trying to solve everything yourself..." "You're looking down at the floor..." 

Feelings: "Are you angry that your character didn't win?"

"You are so happy that I let you go out!"

"You seem a little afraid of her reaction?" 

In empathic reflection, keep the attitude: I'm here, I hear you, I understand you, it's important to me/you're important to me. 

On the other hand, there are attitudes that are not appropriate and may have undesirable consequences, for example:

❖   when a parent always and unconditionally agrees with a child

❖   you believe that you need to make your child happy at all times

❖   the need to solve your children’s problems

3. Be sure to avoid the following when communicating:

➔ Command

➔ Threats 

➔ Preaching 

➔ Criticism 

➔ Dissuasion 

➔ Mockery 

➔ Too much advice (help your child come up with their own solution, instead of offering your own solution)

➔ Questions why? (rather use "How come?", "What did you mean by that?" or similar


In general, healthy communication means hearing the child and paying attention to their needs, respecting the child's attitudes and experiences, and understanding their priorities and interests.

In this way, we develop a deeper understanding of other people's needs, and we give the child a good model to learn to listen and communicate appropriately.


Author: Monika Melnjak, M.Psych.