At the end of January, I covered 7 communication secrets for parents of teens and received some great feedback from our Social Moms readers. I was talking with a friend yesterday and she asked for similar advice, but this time she needed tips for talking to her elementary-aged child.

It’s definitely important to start early. If you communicate well with your kids when they’re younger, it makes talking with them as teens and young adults quite a bit easier. Changing your communication skills with your child is the same as creating a new habit. It takes practice and persistence. Don’t expect this to be easy from day one. It will be a learning process for both you and your child.

Here are 7 communication secrets for parents of elementary aged kids:

1. Keep it short.

Whether it’s praise, instruction or correction – the less words you use, the better. If you sit down with your child for a long lecture, you’ll lose their attention and the effectiveness of the conversation. Be short, simple and precise with what you need to say.

2. Correct your child in private.

This is one of my pet peeves. Obviously there are emergency situations that require on-the-spot attention, like your child is about to injure herself or someone else. But when it’s not an emergency, it’s best to correct her behavior away from peers and siblings. In the end, your child won’t be humiliated and embarrassed and you have their one on one attention. They’ll respect you (and what you have to say) a lot more if it’s done in a respectful way.

3. Listen long.

If you’ve been around elementary aged children (or even teens for that matter) they don’t always start out talking about what’s really bothering them. It takes time for them to say what they need to say. This means you need to take the time to listen for as long as it takes. Let’s say your son comes home from school saying he hates his friends, his teacher and his school. You could just stop listening after he’s complained a bit or you could encourage him to keep talking about his day and find out what’s really bothering him. Maybe he was made fun of in front of the entire class. It’s important to get to the root of his feelings and usually that requires time.

4. Praise them more than you correct them.

For some reason, this is hard for a lot of parents. Possibly it’s because we want the best for our kids. We want them to behave properly, be respectful, and do well in school. So it’s tempting to always be in correction mode. But you also need to take the time to point out the amazing things they’re doing. Little comments like ‘Thank you for picking up your toys without being asked. That helps me a lot!” or “I loved how you made eye contact with the adult you were speaking with” goes along way. In fact, it makes them want to do those things again. When it comes time to correct them for something, your child will respond to it 10 times better if it’s been sandwiched in with praise. Think of it as a 10 to 1 ratio – 10 praises for every one correction. Again, it takes practice!

5. Stay away from words like ‘always’ and ‘never’.

“Your room is always messy!” “You never do as you’re told!” Ouch. Phrases like that hurt deeper than we as parents may know. Put yourself in your kids’ shoes. Say your boss or spouse said “you always” and “you never” all the time to you. You get to the point where you think “what’s the point if I can never do anything right?” Rephrase your correction in a way that doesn’t tear down your child.

6. Share your feelings.

If you’ve had a bad day at work and you’re in a horrible mood, tell your kids this. Simply saying “I had one awful day at work and am not in the best mood. I just wanted to let you know it’s not because of you and maybe you can help make my day better.” Sharing your feelings with your kids gives them the confidence to know that 1) you’re not mad at them and 2) they can share their feelings as well. Model the behavior you want your kids to have.

7. List tasks instead of general statements.

With younger elementary aged kids, saying “Clean your room” is frustrating. They walk into their room and have no clue where to start. Instead of general statements, give them a written down list. It could look something like this:

  1. Put all Legos in the Lego container
  2. Put dirty clothes in the hamper
  3. Make your bed.

Giving them detailed steps will make the process less overwhelming.

I hope some of these steps will help you better communicate with your elementary aged children. Like I said in the beginning, building the foundation of good communication with your kids early will make communication easier when they get older. It builds a mutual respect which is crucial when it comes to good parenting.

Do you have any communication secrets that work well with your kids? Please share them in the comments section.