As adults, be it parents, caregivers or teachers, we have our own way of talking to people. However, we shouldn’t talk to preschoolers and young children the way we speak to adults. That’s why one needs to learn how to talk to preschoolers effectively.
Learning how to talk is fairly simple.
Just avoid the following five common mistakes most people make when they talk to preschool children. That’s all it takes.
In this article:
- Over flattery
- Phrases that mean nothing to them
- Asking them instead of telling them
- Adding ‘Okay?‘ after a statement
- Making negative commands
1. Over Flattery
If you keep going over the top with a child now and then, telling them how fabulous they are, how fantastic their painting or artwork is, how much you love them, etc., what happens after a while is that everything you say starts to sound very insincere to them.
The first time you say something over-the-top like, “That’s the best picture I’ve ever seen anybody draw”, they may enjoy it. But when they see you repeating it, they will eventually find out that what you’re saying isn’t really sincere or true, because they heard you saying the same thing to many other children’s artwork too.
For instance, if you like the tree the child has drawn, you could just say: “That’s an interesting painting, and the way you have coloured the leaves is very nice.” This way you’re neither going overboard nor you’re under-complimenting.
2. Saying Phrases That Mean Nothing to Them
This is all about looking at what you say from the child’s perspective. If you’re going to say things like, “You know better”, or “How many times have I told you”, or “I have told you time-and-time again how to do this”; well the reality could well be that they don’t know it well enough, they don’t know how many times you’ve told them and it doesn’t matter how many times you told them how to do it.
Why? Well, they are just kids. They’re preschoolers! And sometimes you may have to repeat things the way you would teach them the alphabet, the numbers, colours, shapes, etc. You just really have to spell it out for them.
Remember: Children learn what they see. And they learn through repetition. To start with, you have to show them how to do things. After that, you might have to find several different ways, creatively, to tell them the same thing. That’s how you get children do what you want them to do.
3. Asking Them Instead of Telling Them
If there is something that children have to participate in and they don’t have a choice, then the way you talk to them should be such, that it doesn’t sound like they’re being given a choice.
Here’s an example of how to talk to preschoolers:
If they are playing with blocks and you want them to come over to you and work on another activity, never ask: “Children, do you want to come over here and work with me?”
If you do, the children may answer something like “No mam. I’m good. I want to play here with the blocks.” What you’re actually doing is you’re asking them to come over, whereas you’re supposed to tell them come over.
So, instead of asking, just tell them “Children, stop what you’re doing. Now come over and sit with me. You have a new activity to do.” So, just be direct. When you are direct, you are stating things as a command. Only then will they interpret it as “I have to keep the blocks down and go to her right away.”
4. Adding “Okay?” After a Statement
In addition to the previous point above, after being direct at them and telling them what to do, make sure you do not add the word “Okay” at the end.
For instance, let’s take a situation where you say “Children, stop what you’re doing. It’s time for you all to come over and sit and work with me. Okay?”
Just by adding that one single word “Okay” towards the end, you’re actually turning a statement into a question. By making a statement (command), you don’t give children the option to answer you back. But by adding “Okay”, you’re giving them the freedom to respond.
The bottom-line? Just stick to the statement “Children, stop what you’re doing. It’s time for you all to come over and sit and work with me.” Adding “Okay” is absolutely not okay!
5. Making Negative Commands
By far the most common mistake adults make when they talk to preschool children, is making statements that are negative, whereas they are always supposed to be positive and healthy.
For example, if you see a child standing on a table, do not say “Don’t stand on the table”. Saying this makes the child hear only two words “stand” and “table”.
Instead tell the child “Put your feet on the floor”. That’s when they go (in their mind) “Okay, feet, floor. My feet. On the floor.”
Similarly, let’s take the following scenario:
It’s time for a new activity that they need to do on a paper, and: (a) Without any further delay, you have to start distributing the papers out to them all, but at the same time, (b) you want to ensure that none of them does anything to the paper as soon as they get it.
To accomplish the objective, instead of saying “When you get the papers, don’t start coloring”, you could say “Keep the paper on the table. Then put your hands on your lap”.
This way, you’ll make them do exactly what you want them to do, as you haven’t made any mention of the words “start” or “colour” in your statement. If you observe closely, these two words, if uttered, will trigger them to action right away, whereas you want them to wait for your instruction before they start.
Just take a moment, step back, and take a look at the statements from the child’s point of view; and you will see the difference?
While learning how to talk to preschoolers effectively may take a little time, some effort and practice, the real reward is that you will be able to get them do what you want them to do. And the best part? They will never feel compelled to do it!
Children are fundamentally free spirits. They know no restrictions or lines that shouldn’t be crossed. They’re just too beautiful and incredibly sensitive beings. They just don’t want to listen to someone who makes them feel compelled to comply.
That’s why you need to interact with them in a creative way. Just try the aforesaid techniques, and you can rest assured that you will have a happier and productive environment, be it at home or in the classroom. Most of all, you will have children doing exactly what you want them to do.