Communication: Don’t Talk Down to Children

I remember a story that happened a few years ago. I’m an author and I was at a school for a “meet the author” gathering in the school auditorium. One of the teachers saw a boy sitting in the first row named Guy chewing gum. She went up to him commenting loudly: “Guy, didn’t I tell you that I don’t allow chewing gum?”

He kept on chewing, a bit slower but he kept at it.

“What would you like me to do now?” The teacher roared.

Guy kept chewing and didn’t respond.

“In one more minute, I will ask you to leave the auditorium,” she called to him.

I got off the stage and went over to him, bent down on my knees until my head was touching his and gently whispered to him: “I really want you to stay here”. 

He took the gum out of his mouth.

I looked up at the severe expression on the teacher’s face and thought to myself: “Children really have it hard. They’re small and short and we adults tower over them. Even if we aren’t trying, our presence is threatening to them.”

From that day onwards I learned and teach in my lectures that if you want to communicate, if you want to get through to a child and get him to listen to you, you must go down to his level. Speak to him at his height. Don’t inadvertently allow him to feel you are on top and that he is low down. You are after all, a teacher or parent; not a dictator or tyrant.

A child listens when he knows he is noticed and understood. He will know this when you literally touch his head with yours and not stand towering over him. Speak to him face to face.

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