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Helping Toddlers to Preteens Communicate About Changes

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Daniel Johnston/Released

Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason Daniel Johnston/Released

Transitions impact the entire military family and can affect children’s emotional and behavioral health. Children will cope with changes such as a parent’s deployment, reunion, or move to a new town differently, and it’s important to understand their feelings and reactions. By encouraging your children to express their feelings, you will have a better understanding of their concerns and as a result, be better able to help them adjust to changes.1 Regardless of the new circumstances, expressing concerns as a family can help children feel more connected and strengthen overall family resilience.

Use the tips and resources in this article to help you create opportunities to talk with your children and initiate conversations in which children can express and cope with their feelings about changes.

Create Opportunities to Talk with Your Children

Use moments in your daily routine to start conversations with your children. Having conversations in a relaxed atmosphere can help put children at ease, creating an environment for more open and honest communication. Take advantage of conversation opportunities such as:

  • Driving to and from after school activities such as sports or dance practice
  • Preparing and enjoying a meal as a family activity
  • Going out for a special dessert or treat such as an ice cream cone
  • Reading a book or bedtime story together

Start the Conversation

Not sure how to start talking with your children? Try the resources below to help you initiate a conversation:

View and print program materials by visiting the Building Blocks for a Healthy Future materials webpage.

Visit the Self Expression page on the Military Families Near and Far website for more information.

  • Tell Me a Story is a program from the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) that empowers military children ages four to 12 years old by using literature and their own stories to foster skills for resilience, strong peer and parent connections, a sense of pride and accomplishment and a caring community. A Tell Me a Story event begins with the reading of the selected book, focusing on resilience and optimism. Following the reading, participants move into guided discussion groups where parents can learn to how to use the stories for discussion. For more information or to locate an event near you, visit the Tell Me a Story webpage.

Make the Most of Your Conversations

It’s important to earn your children’s trust so they can be comfortable speaking openly about their emotions and reaching out to you when they need help. To help you develop and engage in effective communication with your children, try the following tips:2, 3

  • Find out what your children may want or need from you in a conversation by asking if they want you to only listen, offer advice or help in dealing with feelings or solving a problem.
  • Actively listen to your children by restating what they said to make sure you correctly understand what they are saying.
  • Respond to both the content and the emotions your children are communicating by asking questions about what happened and how it made them feel. Children may begin by only sharing part of what’s bothering them, so asking questions can help you understand how your children are truly feeling and identify the source or contributing factors of the feelings so you can help them work through the situation.
  • Acknowledge your children's emotional reaction by saying things like “That sounds frustrating” or “I bet that hurt your feelings.”
  • Identify and reflect the feeling back to your children by sharing a similar experience so that they know they’re not alone.

Encourage Your Children to Express Themselves

If your children are not ready to talk about how they feel, encourage them to express their emotions in other ways. Try using these resources with your children to provide them with opportunities to learn and practice expression in an interactive and safe environment:

  • Make Music! is part of the Military Families Near and Far website that encourages children to create music to help express their emotions. Children can remix The Electric Company's song, "Let It Out!" by recording their feelings in words and sounds to make a song. Create a remix by visiting “Make Music” on the Military Families Near and Far website.
  • Feel Electric! is a mobile app that helps children explore, understand and express their emotions through games, a digital diary, a story maker and more. Download Feel Electric! from Apple iTunes and the Android Market.
  • Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change offers fun, creative activities that can help your children understand and express their feelings with the help of some of their favorite PBS characters. Visit Coming Home: Military Families Cope with Change for writing, drawing and other creative ideas that can help your children cope with change.

Communicating with your children and encouraging them to express their emotions will help them cope with changes. When talking with your child, remember to be patient, supportive and understanding, listen and accept differing opinions so that you can keep positive and open communication.4

Additional Resources

Sources

1Let It Out,” Military Families Near and Far. Last accessed June 24, 2014.
2Develop Open, Effective Parent Child Communication,” OneToughJob.org. Last accessed June 24, 2014.
3Communication Tips for Parents,” American Psychological Association. Last accessed June 24, 2014.
4Back to School,” Mental Health America. Last accessed June 24, 2014.

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