Drop the baby voice and have a conversation
Let me tell you the secret to talking to us kids!
The year 4 students at Haberfield Public School agree that most adults have no idea how to speak to children.
''My mum, when she talks to me and my friends, she kind of talks in her kid voice,'' Viveca says. ''Her voice kind of goes a pitch higher and she's like, 'Hey darling' … I suppose there is something different between adults and kids, but she doesn't have to make it so obvious.''
Getting down to their level will help parents start the conversation on the right track.
Olivia's problems go deeper. Her parents either treat her like a university student or a toddler. ''When they're not shooting too high, they go really low,'' Olivia says.
Speak up … Haberfield Public School students Ayla, Alistair, Olivia and Viveca are tired of being asked, ''How was school?'' Photo: Steven Siewert
Ayla complains that her parents can be bores. ''They usually ask me, how's school?'' she says. ''What's going on in my life? What do you like? They keep on repeating those questions every time I see them.''
To these students, it's obvious how adults should address nine-year-olds versus, say, 13-year-olds or five-year-olds. But many adults find such nuances perplexing.
A child psychologist for more than 25 years, Carol Boland says confusion about how to talk to children is behind many of the family disputes she has mediated. ''There was often a mismatch between what the parents thought they were saying and what the kids were hearing,'' Boland says.
Too many conversations begin with cliched questions, and too often the child's reply is squashed by a ''That's nice, dear''.
''They are so over being asked, 'Tell me about school. Do you like school? And what are your favourite subjects?''' Boland says. ''That's when you get the monosyllabic answers.''
Jennifer Hudson, an associate professor at Macquarie University who specialises in child psychology, has noticed many parents fail to ''get down to the child's level'' - not just verbally, but physically.
''If you really want to communicate with a child, it is not going to happen if you are towering over them,'' Hudson says.
''Getting down to their level will help parents start the conversation on the right track.''
Haberfield's year 4 students offer a longer list of advice. They are most troubled by pet names, baby talk, speaking in code and repetitive questions. They would prefer adults were honest with them rather than give ''over-the-top'' praise.
But some tips might work better in theory than in practice.
The comedian, best-selling children's author and mother of two, Wendy Harmer, recalls her seven-year-old daughter barrelling up to the dinner table to show the party of adults a picture she had drawn. It was, Harmer remembers, ''a house with a stick person and a pretty crappy-looking tree''.
''I said to her, 'Maeve, that's not very good','' Harmer says. ''And, you know, her face fell and everyone said, 'How can you possibly say such a thing?' But all she had done was sort of dash this thing off so she could come out to the table and say, 'Mum, here's a picture' and everyone would say it was beautiful. I mean, try harder.''
If Harmer's approach sounds harsh, then adults might consider year 4 student Alistair's gentler, but vaguer, advice. ''They need to get the right voice and the right thing to say so you can feel comfortable talking to them,'' he says. ''It has to kind of be a mixture of both.''
Speak their language
How to talk to children, according to the year 4 class at Haberfield Public School.
❏ Speak in an adult tone, but use child-appropriate vocabulary.
❏ Avoid pet names.
❏ Don't brag about offspring to other parents (especially not within earshot).
❏ Avoid asking repetitive questions, such as, ''How was school?'' Instead, inquire about our interests. And tell us about your interests.
❏ Spend more time with us to have spontaneous conversations.