Good Talking, Good Listening

Effective communication with children is essential for maintaining a happy and smoothly run family life. This information includes active listening activities for both parents and children and will help families hone their communication skills. Parent-child communication is one of the most important protective factors against risky behavior in children.

Creative Play

Young children learn and experience new things through their imagination. As parents, we need to remember that the basics of how children learn is not only 1+1=2 or “b” is the beginning sound in “baby.” It is also in their telling you about pictures in clouds, building new worlds with blocks and clay, and making up stories about an imaginary friend.

Here are a few simple tips and some creativity support tools.

  • Have a dress-up box filled with old clothes, personal items, and accessories.
  • Keep drawing tools, clay, and blocks easily accessible.
  • Have blankets and sheets ready for building tents and playhouses.
  • Make up songs about everyday things and take turns adding silly rhyming lines.
  • Get down on the floor and let your child lead “let’s pretend.”
  • If asked, go on a pretend trip in an imaginary car.
  • Have household items ready to be part of a tea party or turn into homes for little acorn people.
  • Take a walk outside - open up the whole world to your child’s imagination.

Listen to your children. When it comes to imagination, let them take the lead rather than tell them what to do or set up structured play. Children who are given choices about what to do show more creativity. And, most important, give them the opportunity to play freely, rather than fill their days with planned activities. If you see young children daydreaming, don’t interrupt.

Humor and Kids

According to KidsHealth, children laugh about 200 times each day; adults laugh only 15 to 18 times. Laughter can help you and your children communicate better and build emotional bonds. "Laughing Is Good for You and Your Child" from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), states that having a sense of humor is good for a child’s mental and physical well-being.


  • Relieves stress.
  • Loosens muscles.
  • Lowers blood pressure and may lower hormones that create stress and weaken immunity.
  • Helps move blood to your heart and lungs, boosting energy and making you feel better instantly.
  • Triggers a point in the brain that helps a person feel pleasure and want to have that same feeling again.

Studies show that laughing is key to positive parenting, helping families have fun and come closer together.

KidsHealth gives you parenting tips to encourage your child’s sense of humor.

  • Model humor. Make jokes, tell stories, laugh out loud.
  • Encourage your child to be funny. Laugh at his or her attempts at humor - jokes, silly pictures, funny noises.
  • Fill your home with fun. Read funny stories, joke books, silly picture books, nonsense rhymes, and comics.

Change and Stress

Change, whether planned or unexpected, is hard for young children to understand and accept. When change happens because of a natural disaster or other crisis, loss adds even greater stress. Children may have a hard time talking about their feelings, but you often can see telltale signs of distress. According to "Tips for Talking to Children After a Disaster" (PDF) from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), children may:

  • Revert to younger behaviors - sucking their thumb, crying more easily, or clinging to parents and caretakers.
  • Anger more quickly and more often.
  • Become quiet or withdrawn.
  • Eat too much or too little.
  • Sleep too much or too little.

What can you do to help?

  • Encourage children to ask questions. Make time for your children to talk about their worries with you, such as how they feel about loss and change.
  • Develop a plan. Plan together for other possible emergencies; help your children feel that there's something you can do to be safer.
  • Pay attention. Watch what children play or draw and what they see on TV. Turn off the news if it's too distressing or if visuals are difficult reminders of loss or change.
  • Find out what frightens them. Help children understand that no feelings are wrong-it's okay to be afraid, and it's okay to be sad one minute and laugh out loud another.
  • Focus on the positive. Help children see the good things that people do to support each other in times of disaster.
  • Stay in touch. Help children stay in contact with the people, places, and things that are important to them.

Change is stressful, and even harder for young children to handle if their routines are disrupted. Start each day by talking about and planning what your child will do that day. As soon as possible after a move or a crisis, it's good to get back into a daily routine. Even if it's a different routine in a different place, knowing what's planned helps young children feel more secure.

Tips on Talking

  • Talk with your children. No matter how old they are, talking with them is one of the most important things you can do to help them grow up confident and secure. When they start school with strong communication skills, they will be better prepared to learn and become successful students.
  • Ask questions that require more than a one word answer, such as "yes" or "no." Ask them to explain something or talk about a story you read together. Answer your children's questions thoughtfully and encourage them to answer their own questions. If you don't know an answer to a question, tell them so and suggest ways to find the answer together.
  • Value your children’s answers. Don't use your talks as a chance to criticize or blame. If your children are unafraid to talk with you, you can more easily help them improve or change behavior. Listen closely. If your children believe their feelings and ideas are valued, they will be more likely to talk openly and you can learn a great deal about how they think and what they feel. You can help set the stage for your children to continue to share their thoughts and feelings as teenagers.
  • Read stories to your children. Let them see you read. Take them to the library for storytelling and to choose books to take home and share with you. Reading together helps children learn about language and share something wonderful with you in a close, warm atmosphere. And, it opens their world to authors of all kinds of books and stories from all over the world.
  • Tell stories to your children. Children love to hear stories. Tell your children stories about when they were younger. They love hearing these and they make children feel valued. Tell them stories you loved hearing when you were a child. Tell stories about yourself when you were a child and about other family members. These stories give children an important understanding of family history. They also show how family members work, play, make mistakes, and celebrate successes together.

Read more of this excellent article from Building Blocks For a Healthy Future, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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