09/04/2013 03:52 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2013

4 Tips for Better Communication With Your Preschooler


When I'm with my 3-year-old picking out produce, shopping for shoes, or just out-and-about, we get a lot of smiles and giggles from people over the cute conversations we have together.

In the women's department, my little one tugged at a leopard print shirt on the rack and said, "This is just too animally." I thought, wow, I'm learning her taste, and asked if she liked the shirt I was about to try on. It was so-so.

It got me thinking about not only how precious these conversations are, but also about how important they are for our relationship and her development.

It's easy for parents to fall into the habit of talking to preschoolers instead of with them, like the trap of perpetual order-giving -- "Put on your shoes," "Stop licking the table," etc. But it's the real conversations with preschoolers that help them develop their own unique voice and a stronger bond with parents.

The following are some tips for good conversation with preschoolers:

Be Patient
It takes time for preschoolers to formulate their thoughts and construct sentences. In a multitasking, smartphone-obsessed, rush-around world, it's not easy for parents to stop, wait, and listen, but it's so worth it after hearing those little gems come out of their mouths.

Ask The Child's Opinion
What children think matters. Parents can let preschoolers know this by asking their opinion. A simple, "Which one do you like?" will do it. If you ask their opinion or advice, but don't take it, tell them that you liked what they had to say, but are going to choose the other one today and explain why.

Include Preschoolers In Dinner Conversation
Dinner can get too focused on whether children are eating their peas or not. And kids get bored if they're never included in the conversation. Make it a point to talk about what fun things they did that day and even things that didn't go so well.

Don't Be Afraid To Make Jokes
Preschoolers may not always get your humor, but they do quickly pick up when you're making a joke. At first, you'll begin to notice them laughing even if they don't get it. Eventually, they'll make attempts at their own humor and start to get yours.

When they do make jokes of their own, laughing with them is a great form of encouragement.