Talking In Pictures To Small Children

A small child under the age of seven needs to hear you paint a picture with your words instead of a direct command.  This can really be a very difficult thing for us to do as adults, and as such we find ourselves barking commands (politely, of course :)) at our small children all day long.  “Come to breakfast!”  “Use the potty!”  “Get your shoes on!” “Now please!”  “Stop doing that!”  Even if we frame things positively and say what we do want, the point is that a million times a day we are asking our child to do something.  And when we only use a command, we are essentially giving the small child a chance to think, a chance to decide their behavior, and then we get angry when they don’t do what we want when we want it.  How funny how that goes.

Small children are often in a fantasy, imaginative world much of the day as they play and create games.  They are not adults, they do not view time as adults do, they do not have the sense of urgency that you do.  And nor should they.

A small child lives in the physical realm and in their bodies.  So, to most effectively parent, we must reach to that for the small child as often as possible instead of playing commander, or worse yet, trying to drive the car with our horn by yelling at the small child. 

Here are some examples:

  • Think of animals that involve what you need.  Can the child hop like a bunny, run as fast as a roadrunner bird, swim like a fish?  Can they open their big  crocodile mouths to have all those teeth brushed?  Can you be a bear that needs a big winter coat ?  (And as you say this, you help put the child’s arm into the coat)….It is the imaginative movement plus the physical piece that gets it all done.
  • Can you involve their dolls or their imaginary friends?   Quietly take their favorite doll and start to get it ready for bed and sing to the doll. “ You and Tim (the imaginary friend) can sit right for dinner “( and lead the child by the hand to the table).
  • Can you employ gnomes, fairies, giants, leprechuans?  Today a four- year- old and I looked for leprechuan shoes by my back door….  Oh, look at these leprechuan shoes sitting here, do these fit YOU?  Oh my, look at the turned up toes on your shoes, I wonder if those shoes will lead you to a pot of gold!  How about gnomes exploring the mouth cave for teeth brushing?  Big giant steps to settle into a big giant bed?

You do not have to do this to the point where it is tiring to you, but do try here and there, because I find most parents employ very little imagination with their children during the day and the children really do respond to it well and do just what needs to happen.

Your part though, is to plan enough time so things are NOT rushed.  Rushing is the death of imagination and the beginning of stress.  Please plan ahead! 

Also, rhythm is your friend.  It is in that space to help you and your child.  If you do something different every night to get ready for a meal, to get ready for bed, what cues does your child have for when things are going to happen?  Again, their sense of time and urgency is not that of an adult.  Also, please seriously evaluate how many places you are dragging a small child.  Are these places for them or errands and would your child just rather be home?   I am just asking you to consider this piece of the puzzle; only you know the answer for you and your family. 

The last piece is the physical end of it, DOING something with a child whilst using the imagination and movement goes much better!  Yes, it is tiring that that is what small children need.  But better to do that than to complain and moan and groan that your small child, who is perfectly  normal, is “not listening”. 🙂

Try it out, I think you will find life to be much easier. 

Many blessings,


14 thoughts on “Talking In Pictures To Small Children

  1. Thank you for your ever-grounding reminders and tips. Our 4 year old recently started “snapping” at us for no apparent reason. We talked to her, saying “You wouldn’t like it if we spoke to you that way.” Later that night I realized I had been speaking to her that way — as outside stresses invade the homelife and my patience dwindled. Needless to say, I’ve changed my behavior and she has too.

    • Yes, modeling is the number one thing we can do as parents to help guide our children…always sobering to realize that, but always effective in making a change as well.
      Thank you for sharing, Anne!

  2. Thank you for the helpful examples! Recently, I have been a bit sleep seprived, and thus, I realized, not as creative. After reading your post, it rejuvenated these intentions. Yesterday, my child was not wanting to go out in the cold rain (understandable, but we had to be somehwere), and didn’t want to put on his coat. I said, “I’ll be the mama duck and you be the baby duck…wiggle into your cozy duck coat and we’ll quack our way to our duck boat (note: the car).” It changed our moment around and we moved joyfully into the cold rain and our “boat”! I love how using imagination helps us adults, also, lighten up and address everyone’s needs for more play!

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  4. Great post. I often feel like a drill sergeant with all the “do this and do that”‘s. And inevitably get upset when I feel they are not listening. These are great suggestions.

  5. Thank you for the tips. I will try doing some of these to my 5 year old. This morning his teacher called my attention about my son being slow with school work, like he has no sense of urgency at all, nor pressured even if all his classmates are done copying the homework on the board. He is always the last to finish and this doesn’t bother him at all.

    I guess my son is a perfectionist and does not want to commit mistakes so before answering any of his school work/s, he would always wait for his teacher to agree on his answer before writing it down. Again, this causes delays in submitting his school work/s.

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