Preschooler communication

By pbsparents.org

 

Preschoolers use their growing vocabularies and communication skills to express feelings, ideas and curiosity about the world around them.

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Between the ages of two and three, many preschoolers begin to use more complicated sentences. But this doesn’t mean that they understand all of an adult’s words or abstract concepts. In fact, preschoolers are often very literal thinkers and interpret ideas concretely. Many are only beginning to think logically and understand sequences of events.

Preschoolers learn that they can use specific words to express ideas and feelings. They have long known their parents’ words have power over their lives. They are beginning to realize that their own words can make a difference as well. They create more powerful meanings using their growing vocabulary.

‘No’ and ‘why’ become common words for young preschoolers. Saying ‘no’ is a way preschoolers claim their space. Saying ‘why’ is a wish to understand the world around them. ‘Why’ is also a word preschoolers use to question authority. Underneath the question, they are saying, ‘Why do you have power over me when I want to feel autonomous?’

Preschoolers like to participate in decisions. This gives them a feeling of control and independence. A preschooler might think, ‘I can take a different position from my mother – and I like it’, or ‘By saying what I want, I am a big kid’.

Preschoolers love to imitate other people’s words. They often mimic comments, phrases and sophisticated statements. At times they misuse or exaggerate phrases, particularly during pretend play. A preschooler might say to a doll, ‘You are so bad you are going to jail for 100 years!’

Preschoolers like to hear about and describe the same event over and over. By telling and listening to stories, preschoolers begin to form opinions about the world and how they fit into it. They say ‘Tell me again’, because hearing a story many times makes them feel safe and secure. When the story is repeated, it also allows them to imagine new scenarios.

Preschoolers like to make up their own explanations. This helps them make sense of things they are only beginning to understand. For example, a preschooler might explain rain by saying, ‘When it rains the sky is crying’. Preschoolers might also embellish stories with wishful thinking.

Between three and five, preschoolers refine their understanding of cause and effect. Older preschoolers can understand simple explanations of cause and effect such as, ‘The medicine will help you get well’ and ‘If you eat healthy food, you will grow big and strong’.

Preschoolers also talk through their bodies, their play and their art. In fact, verbal communication still might not be the dominant way many preschoolers either understand the world or express themselves.

Solve problems playfullyPreschoolers love to play and three minutes of play can save you ten minutes of struggle. If your preschooler refuses to leave, a question like, ‘Would you like to hide under the table so no-one sees you escape?’ turns a potential battle into a game. It’s a lot more fun for both of you – and actually can save time! – Gillian McNamee, PhD, Director of Teacher Education, Erikson Institute

Try to give your preschooler full attention, watch your body language, and tune in to your child’s emotions.

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Give your preschooler your full attention. Even a quick but focused connection can fulfil your child’s need for communication. If your child says, ‘Play with me’, and you’re not available, you might explain why. You could say, ‘I had a hard day at work today. I need three minutes to change. Then I can play with you’. Preschoolers can understand your feelings – to a point – and will appreciate your honesty.

Be aware of your tone. Because preschoolers are new to sentence-making, they might have a heightened awareness of your tone and body language.

Reflect your child’s unspoken emotions. This helps put your child’s feelings into words. If your child didn’t get a turn at the playground, you might say, ‘You wanted to play with the ball next, didn’t you?’ or ‘I can see you feel really cranky!’

Enlist your preschooler’s help in figuring out a problem. For example, you might say, ‘Did something in that movie scare you?’ If your child doesn’t answer, you might follow up by saying, ‘Could it have been the look on that person’s face?’

Help your preschooler develop emotional awareness. Even if there is misbehaviour – you can talk about it together. Most preschoolers can understand a sentence like, ‘Sometimes, I get mad too. It helps me to go into another room and take some deep breaths’.

Offer limited choices. Preschoolers gain a sense of control by making their own decisions. You might say, ‘Do you want to get dressed before or after breakfast today?’

Don’t end your sentence with ‘OK’ unless you are ready for your child to say ‘No’. Asking your child if an activity is OK can lead to a lengthy discussion and even a power struggle.

Grant a preschooler’s wish in fantasy. If your child expresses sadness that a toy has to be shared, you might say, ‘Would you like it if you had the toy all to yourself? What would you do with it?’ By expressing a wish and talking it through, even if it can’t be granted, a child begins to calm down.

Create safe opportunities for preschoolers to express their BIG feelings. For example, if your child is extremely angry, instead of saying, ‘Stop yelling’, you might say, ‘Go in the bathroom and scream as loud as you can for one minute’.

Don’t over-explain. Simple explanations can be more effective than long discussions. If your preschooler is having a tantrum, holding your child close – or just staying nearby – can mean more than any words you can say.

Solve problems playfully Preschoolers love to play and three minutes of play can save you 10 minutes of struggle. If your preschooler refuses to leave, a question like, ‘Would you like to hide under the table so no-one sees you escape?’ turns a potential battle into a game. It’s a lot more fun for both of you – and actually can save time! – Gillian McNamee, PhD, Director of Teacher Education, Erikson Institute

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