Connecting with Children, from a Therapist's Perspective

Parenting can be tough at times. Sometimes, your child just won’t listen to you. It may be frustrating when you are unsure of what to do to get things to resonate. As therapists, we can offer a different perspective—perhaps one that will benefit your relationship with your child. We have learned many lessons about how to connect with children and improve their behavior through our line of work. Here are some insights to consider:

The Value of Play –
Children learn many skills and lessons through play. When skills are presented through play, children are more open minded, engaged, and excited to learn. You can speak their language and learn about how they see the world by using play and being creative. For example, a therapist might use charades to teach children how to identify and express feelings, play Simon Says to practice following directions, and use games like Jenga and Sorry to teach cooperation and patience.

The Importance of Choice –
Children live in a world where most choices are made for them: what they wear, what they eat, and which activities they're involved in, among other things. Although major decisions will be left up to parents, it's important to give children a say when possible. By giving them a choice, they see that their opinions are valued; it also helps them express their interests and needs. They can decide on colors, clothes, toys, or other choices that you believe they are capable of making on their own. We recommend giving children at least 2-3 options to choose from. Having options is especially helpful for children who like to have control; it helps them learn to control with limitations.

Children Learn From Adults’ Behavior –
Children are constantly learning from us, whether we are actively teaching them or not. Children learn how to express feelings, how to treat others, how to communicate needs, and how to resolve conflicts all by watching adults. If we yell when we’re angry, they learn that this is an acceptable way to express anger or that it is difficult to control anger. On the other end, if we are able to express anger in healthy ways, if we provide reasons for feeling angry, or we take a needed break, children will learn that anger can be spoken about more calmly. Since children are always watching, it’s important to be mindful of our daily behaviors and model good behavior for them.

Rewards and Consequences Keep Them On Track –
Why do you go to work everyday? Besides having a passion for your career, you likely work to earn a paycheck or further develop your skills (reward), and to avoid receiving negative feedback or losing your job (consequences). Children respond to rewards and consequences as well. Remember to acknowledge their positive efforts with rewards (verbal praise, stickers, small toys, or fun experiences) and to reduce negative behavior with consequences (time out or taking privileges away).

There isn’t a guidebook or one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. Every parent will face a time when he or she feels frustrated, upset, or at a loss with his or her child. Sometimes, getting a fresh perspective (from a therapist, for example) can make a big difference in your parenting. Seeing things in a new light may help you develop and improve your relationship with your child.