In the fast-paced and demanding world of parenting, finding effective ways to communicate with kids can be a real challenge. Whether it be communicating about boundaries, social-emotional learning skills, or expectations, etc. As adults, we often find ourselves juggling multiple responsibilities and tasks, leaving little time or even energy to set ourselves and our kids up for success when it comes to situations where we need them to do/not do something. In this post, I’d like to discuss in specific a powerful strategy to support kids and parents. This strategy is very effective when parents are “busy” or otherwise occupied with a task, while their children may be wanting their engagement, resulting in a challenging dynamic.
What do I mean by “busy”?
For example, when you work from home intermittently, you have Zoom calls, but you don’t want your children using screens as a means of a babysitter – what can you do to communicate with them what their options are of what to do while you’re occupied?
Or, when adult guests are coming over and parents are wanting to be able to engage with the guests without major disruptions.
Or, when you’ve got to make an important phone call to the bank, but are easily overwhelmed with yelling and shouting kids in the background (like me), but simply asking them to be quiet just isn’t doing the trick, because lo and behold, when you’re on the phone, that’s when they surely want you, right?
When left to desperate tactics, yelling can ensue and often, everyone feels unheard and stressed while it creates a rupture in the relationship.
One powerful tool that can bridge the gap in communication and support our kids in understanding boundaries during these kinds of situations is…drumroll, please...
Understanding children's need for visual cues
Children learn in a multitude of ways, and one VERY important way is through the visual sensory system. Studies show that kids grasp and retain information better when it is presented in a visual format. Visual aids provide a concrete representation of abstract concepts, making it easier for children to understand and remember. I also like to say that this practice helps us to take ideas in our heads and make them tangible on paper. By utilizing visual cues, parents can effectively communicate boundaries to their children in specific scenarios.
Visual aids also cater to children's natural curiosity and engagement. Visual aids provide children with tangible and concrete reference points, making it easier for them to grasp. Whether it's through charts, pictures, diagrams, simple routine lists with graphics, whiteboards and dry erase markers, cue-cards, printed posters, etc., visual aids create engaging experiences that empower children.
Even when a child cannot read, there is something magical about how the brain processes visual information even when written text is used. But the caveat is that it’s not like we just draw a picture on a whiteboard, without talking to our kids and walk away expecting them to know what we are trying to “teach” them in the drawing. Research shows that a visual representation along with developmentally appropriate explanations, discussion and parent-child engagement provides kids a solid way to reference the information we are trying to support them with if they forget.
For example, let's consider their morning routine: we collaboratively created a morning routine list with our kids in our home. We made ours in Canva – an online graphics tools. I let my kids select the graphics of each task (which graphic of a toilet, and which graphic of toothbrush they liked the most, etc.). Then when it was completed, we printed it off and discussed it using the paper we held in our hands. Instead of asking them to do each task – like wake up, brush teeth, get changed, etc., we offer them the idea of following their co-created visual morning routine list. “Hey honey, see you downstairs when your morning list is completed…”
(P.S. You don’t need to be fancy and use Canva, a simple piece of paper or whiteboard can also be fun… Maybe wit
h different color markers.)
“There are countless studies that have confirmed the power of visual imagery in learning. For instance, one study asked students to remember many groups of three words each, such as dog, bike, and street. Students who tried to remember the words by repeating them over and over again did poorly on recall. In comparison, students who made the effort to make visual associations with the three words, such as imagining a dog riding a bike down the street, had significantly better recall.
Various types of visuals can be effective learning tools: photos, illustrations, icons, symbols, sketches, figures, and concept maps, to name only a few. Consider how memorable the visual graphics are in logos, for example. You recognize the brand by seeing the visual graphic, even before reading the name of the brand."(1)
Creating visual reminders and cues for children
Creating visual reminders and cues can be a simple yet effective way to support children. Let’s talk about boundaries for a moment: the use of visual cues such as signs, labels, and symbols for instance, can help our children remember to wash their hands before meals. This could look like a visual reminder or a picture of soap and water near the sink (or even at the dinner table with a question mark)
This visual cue serves as a gentle reminder and prompts your child to follow the established boundary.
Why can’t my kids just remember? If I can, so should they. They must learn, after all. I can’t be making signs and reminders all over the place, now can I?
This might be the argument some traditionalists might make. But if we’ve told the child 1000 times, and they still aren’t “getting the message,” it’s not the child that has a problem, it’s the approach we are taking that is problematic.
It’s kind of like a scientist doing an experiment. They might try it one way, and it doesn’t work, so they try it a different way to see if that does it… And scientists may try thousands of ways to do an experiment to finally achieve success. What makes us think that our incredibly unique kids who have a brain full of neural circuits that are supremely unique should just do it the one way we’re telling them (a.k.a. that our approach should work no matter what, and if not, it’s the child’s problem)?
Not only that, but a child’s brain is still a growing brain – it does not function like a fully matured adult brain. So no, we cannot expect that our child of 4 years or even 18 years could function just like a fully matured brain – modern brain science proves this. And, even as adults, we definitely can be supported with visual cues and reminders.
I have engaged in teaching and supporting kids for 23+ years through multi-sensory learning methods, but only realized the validity of it's scientific power since becoming a coach for kids in 2018 after seeing it in practice with many kids of different ages and backgrounds from around the world. One parent commented “You reach them three times. Once through the story (auditory and visual), then through discussion (auditory and visual), and then through craft/art/experiment portion of your sessions (kinesthetic/tactile/experiential).” Yes, that’s my approach to coaching kids – multi-sensory learning in the field of social-emotional development for self-esteem and self-confidence.
A Collaborative Approach
It is important to involve your child in the creation of these visual reminders. By allowing them to participate in the process, they feel a sense of ownership and are more likely to adhere to the boundaries. Additionally, involving your child in the creation of visual cues promotes their cognitive and creative development.
For example, when I’m explaining boundaries to my children, I will often use a whiteboard to draw and write. My daughter started to ask if she can draw too – whatever it was that we were talking about. And since I’m aware that collaborative problem-solving is a key component to garnering cooperation, I was like “Of course!”
And she steps up to the plate – to literally draw out the boundary we are creating! There is a strong sense of ownership kids have when it comes to their “creations” – be it lego or drawing out boundaries or rules on a piece of paper (... I know it's hard to believe right now... but you gotta try it!).
Now, this is where it can get really cool! When we collaborate and coach our kids, we can invite them to establish their own routines, boundaries or ideas, etc.
When I’m talking to my child about meal times taking far too long, if she’s old enough to understand time, I might ask her what she thinks is an appropriate amount of time to finish her food. She then can answer and draw it out on a piece of paper or whiteboard. She has now created her own boundary to experiment with – remember boundaries are not rigid rules – they need to be tested and then we can determine if they work for us and our kids or if they need to be tweaked.
When I’m talking about my child about kindness and what that looks like, I can let her draw on a whiteboard to her heart's content as I ask her what kindness “looks like”, “feels like,” and even “sounds like.”
When discussing expectations like how we might interact with young children who will be guests in our home later that evening, I might ask them what is reasonable to do with toys and not okay to do (like throw or snatch), or how we might speak to the guests, or what we can say or do when we don’t feel like engaging with the guests. Then I let them draw it out... I might even look through a book or magazine that has pictures with my kids to see if they can find pictures that resemble the expectations…
What I like about the collaborative approach is that it meets other important psycho-social-emotional needs for children: such as the need for connection, play (creative self-expression is a form of play), and respect because we are getting their input - we show them we value their opinion.
Using visual schedules to establish routines and boundaries
Visual schedules are valuable tools for establishing routines and boundaries in a child's daily life. These schedules provide a visual representation of the activities and tasks that need to be completed throughout the day. By following a visual schedule, children have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and what comes next. This helps them develop a sense of structure and routine, which in turn supports their ability to respect boundaries. If everything is “auditory” – aka a parent nagging a child repeatedly to do a task… well, I’ll let you experiment with that and get back to me… (Yes, I’m cheeky… I know…)
Visual schedules can be created using pictures, symbols, or even simple drawings. They can be displayed in a prominent place, such as a wall or a refrigerator, where children can easily refer to them. By incorporating visual schedules into your child's routine, you provide them with a visual roadmap, making it easier for them to navigate their day and adhere to the established boundaries. This is also a common recommendation amongst practitioners who work with neurodiverse children.
Here’s another powerful thing to know: we have this thing called a Reticular Activating System in our brain (RAS). The RAS acts as a bridge between the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain and is associated with vision. The RAS keeps scanning our environment to tell us what to look out for that might be important for our life. When using visual aids in our parenting, we support our child’s RAS to program itself to look out for information/context that we hope to instill in them. For example, in my house, we have our values and boundaries tree art, our kids’ needs cue cards, coping skills cue cards and so much more, displayed in different areas of our house. Each time my child’s eyes happen to scan/look/walk by/glance at the area wherein these items are displayed, it stimulates their RAS to remind them that these things are of importance.
Conclusion: The power of visual support in parenting
In the busy and demanding world of parenting, finding effective ways to communicate important things with our children can be a challenge. However, by making things visual, parents can bridge this gap and support their children in understanding whatever concepts, boundaries, or expectations they want to communicate with their kids.
By utilizing visual support, parents can establish routines, and even empower their children to set their own boundaries.
As parents, we have a responsibility to communicate effectively with our kids in ways that support them in understanding whatever lessons we are hoping to impart. Let's harness the power of visual aids and create an environment where our kids thrive.
Looking for some support in getting started? Let me do the work so you don’t even have to lift a finger!
Below is a list of easy to use low-cost visual aids for kids that support your parenting:
All done for you, so you don’t have to lift a finger! Enjoy – thank me later
Ashley Anjlien Kumar
The Confidence Coach for Kids and Parents
(1) Reference: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/get-psyched/201207/learning-through-visuals