Personality Types and Communication with Children

“Whatcha doin’?” This simple question used to be on the lips of my daughter, whenever she found herself with a willing listener. Communication comes as naturally to her as water bubbling in a brook.

“Watcha doing?” was the well-used question she offered as she made conversation with friends, young and old. It usually got people started with a story about their latest activities. She would then launch forth into her own explanation of how her day.

The thing was, she was barely two years old!

When she grew up to be a school girl, I had no trouble finding out about class gossip. Every afternoon I got the full story: How the teacher said this; that her girlfriend said that; or news that someone was in big trouble today!

Now an adult, our daughter is as outgoing and extroverted as they come. She is always ready to be someone’s friend or help someone out. She is unfazed at the size of her audience, or at filling up silence in a conversation. The brook still bubbles!

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One Time Only

On the other hand, there are also introverts in my family. One of my two boys took much longer to get his head, and mouth, around speech. There was nothing wrong, it simply took another year or so. For example, as a two-year-old he was prepared to say each word he learnt once, and once only.

“Train!” he pointed out one day as we sat in the car waiting at a level crossing.

“Cheese!” he said at breakfast one morning. It was one of his favourite foods.

“Water!” Even though he drank water at every meal, like the other words in his growing vocabulary, it was spoken only once. Talk about a one-word wonder boy!

Maybe, his brain reasoned, he could say each word, so why say it again? Whatever the reason, he communicates more like a slow-running river. Quiet and steady. It wasn’t until he was well past his third birthday that he began to consistently verbalise, and suddenly it was in sentences!

When one-word wonder boy was older, trying to talk to him after school was an interesting challenge. Our afternoon walks home, took us through a lovely leafy park, and as we ambled along, it was easy to get newsy items from my girls. But grunts and nods were often all I could gather from the two boys as they ran wild and free down the hill. Sometimes it was necessary to quieten the girls, so I could catch the boys’ snatches of news.

My sons are now in their 20s

Interestingly, one-word wonder boy is as ready as his sister to be someone’s friend or help someone in need. In fact, the kindergarten teacher used to call him “everybody’s friend.” And, while he doesn’t seek the limelight, he is happy to stand in front of a crowd to speak to others when necessary. In fact, he surprised everyone not so long ago when he gave an excellent, engaging and funny Best Man’s Speech. So while he is quiet, and likes to have his own space, he is still very capable of communicating well.

As an introvert, my son is energized by being on his own. On the other hand, as an extrovert, my daughter is energized by being with others. Both personality types require very different strategies when it comes to communication.

With Communication, there are Two Extremes

In my family, there is a broad difference between the noisiest and the quietest. And that’s the thing. Each child is different. You would think in a family of five siblings you might get lots of similarities, but to be honest you find more differences!

As a mother with young children, I soon learned to tailor my communication style depending on the child. I decided it was very important to throw away the cookie-cutter thinking. I began to relate to them as individuals, which you can find out more about in Talk 6 of Top Ten Life-Changing Motherhood Talks.

While there was one set of basic rules when it came to discipline and expectations, it was clear each child was very different. I responded differently depending on who I was talking with, and what we were talking about.

I had a big after-school challenge with my boys though. Because how do you get someone to tell you what’s going on in their lives when you only get one-word replies?

To be honest, I didn’t ever get very good at this. Something about running around with five children makes it difficult to think through strategies very well. Most likely, my mother could have taught me a thing or two here, but that was not possible.

After a while I realized it was not helpful to ask questions requiring only one-word answers. Although to be honest, they seem to pop out very easily.

Questions such as:

  • “Did you have a good day?”
    “YES”, came the response.
  • “You must be feeling pretty tired now.”
    “NO,” he’d say. I realise now that was a terrible one, because it isn’t even a question!
  • “Did Charlie play with you at lunchtime?”
    “YES,” Silly me, you would think I would have worked it out by then.
  • “Did you hand in your project okay?”
    Nod of the head. Not even any words!

Instead, I began to ask “W-Questions”

To successfully engage in communication with children I started asking  “W-questions”, which either start with, or have, W in them – What, Where, Why, Who, How.

So similar to above, but using W-Questions . . .

  • “What sort of day did you have?”
    “GOOD”, was his answer. Well, I suppose that’s better than Yes or No.
  • “How are you feeling?”
    “Okay. I’m hungry!” I mean, what was I expecting him to say?
  • “What did you do at lunchtime?”
    “Played with Charlie. We got a ball out of the storeroom, and kicked it around the playground.” Well, that was a bit better, but actually, I probably already knew that.
  • “What did the teacher say about your project?”
    “Nothing.” Perhaps that was asking too much, as it’s unlikely a teacher would say anything at all about work as it was handed in. What did I expect?

As you can see these questions were still not very powerful, and it usually took much more coaxing to get anything much out of them. But have a look at these recent finds, below! I discovered there are questions which really reveal the “chat” in chatterbox. Or perhaps, the “babble” to brook 😉

Try these for size as you aim to improve your communication with children:

  • “What problem did you solve today?” (I love this one!)
  • “What is the funniest thing that happened to you today?”
  • “What part of your day do you wish could have lasted longer?”
  • “Which of your friends makes you act your best?”

I have developed a list of THE 88 BEST questions to ask your kids and get conversations rocking.

But thinking about it now, maybe this is the best, and most simple, question of all:

“Whatcha doin?”

Good communication with children is critical. What are some great questions you ask you kids? I’d love to know!

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