I Hear You
These are the three words that transformed my nanny career - "I hear you."
Listening, truly giving your full attention and understanding to someone, is a largely overlooked, but hugely important way of showing respect. Humans of all ages want to know that when they speak about something important, someone is listening and understanding.
Young children struggle with communication. They often resort to hitting, screaming, biting, or that horrendous high-pitched screeching to get attention quickly. If they feel their caregiver is not responding they will get louder in an attempt to say, "Hey! Pay attention!" Toddlers do not understand delays. They don't get that you need to wash your hands before handing them their food, or that you may be busy driving and can't fetch the toy they just threw clear across the car.
"I hear you saying you want your toy. You want it right now."
"I hear you. You are trying to tell me your book fell on the floor."
Sometimes just the acknowledgment of their feelings is enough to keep them calm.
Other times, when a child feels frantic, I'll respond with a narration of my movements. "I hear you. You are hungry. You want food right now! You are so hungry. I am cutting your grapes for you to eat. Oh these look so delicious. What a treat. Here comes your food!"
Occasionally, I will stop talking and the child will start making inquisitive noises again, checking to make sure I still understand and haven't forgotten their request. "Yes, I hear you. You want me to help you open the box. First I need to finish washing the dishes, then I can help you with your box. Is it a hard box or a soft box? Do you think monkey would like to jump on the box?" Turn the discussion over to things they can do on their own without you.
When you use language to acknowledge a child's emotions, you are giving them the tools to learn to recognize and name the emotion for themselves. You are also modeling the way you want them to use active listening with you.