Developing Communication Skills

I believe there is no skill more important to your child’s future success and happiness than the ability to communicate well. To be able to share feelings, thoughts and ideas in a variety of situations is what will enable him or her to develop the relationships and connections that will, hopefully, enable them to live a rich and fulfilling life. A child could have brilliant ideas but without the ability to share his ideas, eloquently defend his opinion and influence others, that brilliant idea is unlikely to see the light of day.

As human beings, we are social animals and have an innate desire to be a part of a social group.  For some of us that are easier than others. We may be shy, have a stutter, feel unsure of ourselves or be unaware of personal space.  If that is the case then we will need a bit more help in developing communication skills. For many of us we automatically learn how to communicate in a way that is accepted by the society we grow up in.  We learn the language as well as the body language and other nuances of communication quite effortlessly.

In the past, this was all learnt from being a young baby as we were with our mothers, and other relatives or close family friends as they chatted, worked and interacted with each other. At times they would sing to us or tell us stories.  Nowadays we are living in a very different world and ironically, the great steps forward in electronic communication could well hinder our children’s development of communication skills. We don’t seem to spend the same time interacting with people but more time interacting with devices.  And the reality is playing with an iPad will not teach your child communication skills in the same way human interaction and exposure will.

Communication skills are made up of three main components.

Firstly, self-esteem or how you feel about yourself, and the thoughts that run through your head have a direct impact on your communication.  A child who knows he is valued and loved will be more likely to share his thoughts and express his feelings than a child who often receives a negative reaction to his behaviour.

Secondly, verbal communication, this starts at birth when babies realize that if they cry they will get fed. From then on the baby is watching your face and eyes and attempting to copy the noises you make.  I found one of the most amazing experiences was watching my toddler talk into a pretend phone.  She was still at the babbling stage but she had my body language, tone and inflection and was doing an amazing and somewhat hilarious impression of me. Even now as a mother, I laugh when I hear myself say things to my children in exactly the same way my mother did when I was little. Children develop verbal communication from the people they are exposed to. For that very reason, as a parent you must be conscious of how you speak, not only to your child, but around your child.

Thirdly, is non-verbal communication. We communicate so much about our feelings, our thoughts, how interested we are, in non-verbal ways. A lot of what we consider manners would fall here.  Listening, making eye contact, showing you are interested in the communication by nodding or making small noises to show you are engaged in the communication. Have you heard yourself say ’Please look at me when I am speaking to you!” So much is expressed non-verbally and again our children learn this from us and others around them.

The foundation of good communication skills is self-confidence.  Instil in your child a belief that what they think matters, how they feel is important and that they have a valuable contribution to make. You can do this in many ways. Firstly show them how much you love them, even when they may be acting somewhat unlovable. Be calm through tantrums and fits of rage. Talk to them about how they feel and encourage them to share their darkest thoughts. Ask their opinion often, even simple things like “We need to buy bread and vegetables here, which one do you think we should get first?” Then wait, even if it takes ages, for them to make that important decision. Give them many different opportunities to communicate with others. For example, asking for the bill in a restaurant, giving your address to a taxi-driver or ordering food at the food court. Communication skills are further developed through play so allow your child as many opportunities to engage in pretend play either alone or with friends. There is a great deal of research on how important play, especially pretend play, is to the development of language and social skills.

More than anything communicate to your child how important they are to you. Do that both verbally and non-verbally. Do that day and night.  Do that from the day they join your life and don’t stop.

At Chiltern house preschool, students are encouraged to express their thoughts freely and become confident in communicating with both their classmates and teachers.

Ways to improve communication skills at home:

  • Talk to your children. Share your thoughts and feelings and do so using varied language.
  • Read to your child every day. Sharing books together has many advantages but the first is the development and love of language.
  • Encourage pretend play. Create situations where your children will be encouraged to play. This can be done by providing dress-up clothes, props or creating special spaces.
  • Show appreciation to your child for good communication. Sometimes it is appropriate to show your child how pleased you are that they communicated well.  This is true once they are bit older and may have been in a more formal setting which has required proper manners and body language.
  • Listen! All parents need a reminder here.  If we want our children to be able to listen well we need to listen to them.  This means putting down the phone or iPad and giving over our full attention.
  • Don’t interrupt. Even if your young child is struggling to find the right word unless he is becoming frustrated give him time to finish expressing his idea before responding.  We so often interrupt our children and then get cross when they do that to us.
  1. When my son makes a mistake talking, how do I show him the right way without making him feel bad?
  2. Don’t correct him or interrupt him while he is talking. The best thing to do is to repeat it back to him correctly but in a natural, conversational way.  For example:

Child: “ Mama, Daddy goed to the shop.  He saying he buyed me a toy”.

Mum: “Really, did Daddy go the shop and he said he would buy you a toy?”

Remember that for little children “language is caught not taught”.  So your job is to model correct language and he will indeed pick it up.  If you criticize his language structure or pronunciation too often it will make him reluctant to speak and share his ideas which would really hinder his language development as practice makes perfect!

  1. My daughter is very shy and when anyone outside of the immediate family speaks to her she hides behind me or puts her head down and refuses to talk. What can I do?
  2. Try to empathize with your child and don’t shame her by pushing her forward or calling her “shy” or “silly”, even if you feel embarrassed. She is not doing this to upset you.

Model confident behaviour yourself.  Children do learn their communication and social skills from the models of that behaviour around them.

Teach your child basic social skills.  You can’t expect her to know them automatically.  So explain what you would like her to do, Look people in the eye, smile and use a big voice so they can hear her.

With increased exposure and gentle encouragement over time, you will see a positive change.

  1. My son gets so angry and can’t seem to control himself sometimes. What can I do?
  2. Stay calm! Regardless of how old your child is the best thing to do is to accept his feelings and remain calm yourself.

Anger is natural and an emotion that all humans experience. It is a defence against deeper feelings of fear, hurt, pain and disappointment. What children need to be able to do is control aggressive impulses that can be connected to the feelings of anger.  This is certainly possible once they are around 4.  Younger than that it is harder. As they get older they can begin to solve problems so they are less likely to get angry.  For example, removing toys from the reach of a younger sibling who may destroy them.

Depending on your child’s temperament you should either stay close to them and offer a sense of connection and acceptance or give them space and time to calm down.  With younger children staying close is more likely to help them.

Talk to your child about how he feels when he is angry.  Show that all feelings are allowed but what must be limited is the way in which he reacts to that anger.

Different types of communication skills and how you can help to develop them.

Interpersonal communication

This is the communication that takes place between two people. Children develop interpersonal and social skills based on their experiences and interactions with those around them.  From birth, they begin to develop this.  For example, babies soon learn to scream if they want to be fed or changed or even just picked up.

The best way to teach your child interpersonal communication skills is to model appropriate behaviour in a variety of situations:

  • Appropriate greetings
  • Ways to initiate play or interaction with peers
  • Use of an appropriate amount of assertiveness to communicate needs, desires, beliefs and ideas.
  • Sharing toys, or taking turn resolving conflicts peacefully as they arise.

Intrapersonal Communication

This is the communication that takes place internally.  This communication goes on all the time in your head and dictates our reactions and relationships. The quality of this communication depends on our own sense of self-esteem, self-awareness and personality. As parents, we play an important role in ensuring our children develop positive intrapersonal skills. The words we use to describe them and even the tone and body language we use with them will all play a large part in whether or not they develop a sense that they are special and important.

Examples of intrapersonal communication would be talking to yourself when playing, keeping a diary, prayer, and the first example is often counting to ten when angry.

We can help children recognize the importance of this communication by asking them how they felt, what did they say to themselves when they saw something, teaching them to count to 10 when angry or even count sheep when trying to go to sleep.  Tell them there is always a little voice inside of them and they must listen to that voice.

  • Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is hugely important as it reinforces what we are saying and provides additional meaning and, occasionally, meaning over and above what has been said. Remember that we take in much more from what we see that from what we hear. So when communicating with another person we are not only listening to the language being used but also we are in tune with what we see, the friendliness, enthusiasm, and openness, all of which will come through non-verbal communication.

We use our bodies to express our attitudes and emotions.

As parents, we must be aware of our own body language when communicating with our children.

As much as we remind them to make eye contact, smile, stand up straight and pay attention, we can only really expect them to do so if that is what we do when communicating with them.

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