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How to communicate effectively with preschoolers

Teaching requires knowing how students communicate. By understanding preschoolers' language abilities and tendencies, you can communicate more effectively. Here are some important aspects of communication to keep in mind, along with strategies for interacting with preschool students:

Typically, between the ages of two and three, children become capable of forming more complex sentences. As they learn how to use logical reasoning, they are still in the process of developing their vocabularies and continue to be literal thinkers. For this reason, they are likely to still have trouble understanding all of the words and abstract concepts teachers use. 

Preschoolers use "no" and "why" commonly. Beginning in preschool, "no" and "why" become common ways for students to express themselves and what they want. For example, saying "why" is a way by which students try to understand the world around them. They may also use the word to question the rationale behind why they are supposed to do something (i.e. cleaning up their toys). In this case, they are indirectly asking why you have the authority to tell them what to do, especially as they become increasingly independent. You may find that you hear "no" many times throughout the day. For preschoolers, this is a way to show some level of control when so much of their lives is decided by adults.

Preschoolers like to make their own decisions. Decision-making allows preschoolers to exercise control and independence. Making decisions, or participating in the process, allows children to see that there can be different sides to an issue, and that they can advocate for something that differs from a parent or teacher's opinion.

Between the ages of three and five, preschoolers refine their understanding of cause and effect. As children grow older, their ability to understand concepts such as cause and effect improves. For instance, they are able to understand that medicine can help them recover from a cold, or that cold weather requires warm clothes.

It is important to remember preschoolers' abilities and tendencies, so that you can communicate effectively:

Give the student your full attention. Your undivided attention is critical to allowing children to express their feelings. Active listening, as we've emphasized previously, is also important to children's confidence and self-esteem. If students feel that you're listening to them fully, they gain confidence and the willingness to express their feelings in the future. Strong communication is vital to a successful classroom, and can also help reduce problematic behaviors. 

Help your preschooler develop emotional awareness. It is important to communicate with children, especially if a student engages in problematic behavior. Effective communication in these instances may involve making the effort to relate to the student and empathize. For instance, if the child is upset or mad about something that just transpired in the classroom (i.e. another child playing with a toy they like), you might say that I you get upset too, and it helps me to go to a different area of the room and take a few deep breaths or count out loud.

ProSolutions Training offers many online child care courses for teachers. Refer to our course, "Understanding Child Development: Erikson's Stages of Emotional Development" for more information on understanding and developing children's emotional awareness.