Communication Techniques That WorkHeidi Hoff
Preschoolers are like chameleons. All day long they verbalize and act out scenes from their imaginations but when you ask them: "How was your day at preschool?" or "How was your play date?" they turn quiet and run off.
Between the ages of 3 and 5 years, children take a huge leap in their social skills. They will experience their first close friendships, their first jealousies and first hurt feelings. These feelings can be extremely overwhelming, and although they don't necessarily talk about things that are bothering them, they are able to express themselves in other ways.
Here's an example: Mary is four years old and goes to Preschool twice a week. Her best friend is Joanne, and they only play with each other. One day, another child in the class named Christine decided she wanted to befriend Joanne and would do anything to win her friendship. Mary was suddenly left out of the group and wasn't sure how to react. She interacted more with her teacher during playtime and started making loud noises and stomping her feet during class so Joanne would notice her. Joanne was so busy interacting with Christine that she didn't even realize Mary wasn't included in their play. After school, the teacher alerted Mary's mother to the situation.
That night, Mary's mother asked her how school was. Because she knew of the situation and was able to ask questions relating to what Mary experienced that day, Mary opened up and talked about her feelings of being left out. Mary's mother tried to explain the nature of friendships and helped heal her hurt feelings. Days later Mary drew a picture. It was of a square with brightly colored dots inside. On the outside of the square were two large gray dots. When Mary's mother asked her about the picture, Mary explained that the brightly colored dots inside the square were playing together happily and the two gray dots were not allowed in the square to play with the others. Perhaps if Mary's mother was not told of the situation at preschool, she might not have understood the drawing, but if she was aware of how to read her daughter's artwork and interpret her methods of play, she might have noticed that something was wrong.
Further suggestions from Mary's teacher taught her mother how to communicate more effectively with her daughter.
Here are some further examples:
Encourage any type of creative expression such as drawing, painting, working with play dough or clay. When your child shows you a picture he or she has drawn, say: "Can you tell me about your picture?" instead of: "What is that?" This will provide an opportunity for them to open up, explain every little squiggle or dot, and maybe tell you about something they've experienced and didn't know how to deal with. A little chat before bedtime usually brings out thoughts regarding fears or insecurities. Low lighting and quiet voices can make your child comfortable enough to tell you about something that happened that day that bothered him.If your child is reluctant to talk about a situation that you're concerned about, try picking up a favorite stuffed animal and being the voice for it. You may find that she will open up more to her "best friend" than to a parent.
Learning how to put feelings into words is a big task for a preschooler. Teach your child that it is all right to talk openly about his or her feelings. Talk often about different kinds of emotions, and be prepared for their first heartbreaks, feelings of sadness or disappointment, with open arms.
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Heidi Hoff, Editor, Preschool Planet.
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