Communication: it’s one of the most valuable skills a person can have throughout life. Effective communicators are better able to develop and maintain relationships with others, express what they know, ask questions in the classroom, at work and elsewhere, and advocate for themselves and others. And while you communicate each day with your child, are you teaching him or her to become a good communicator with others?
Keep in mind that communicating is much more than just listening and speaking. Here are a few of the most important abilities and traits that strong communicators have:
How can you help your child build good communication skills? Here are a few tips and suggested activities:
Ask why. Children are born curious, and as a parent, it’s your job to nurture that curiosity. One way to do so is to encourage your child to express his or her opinions and ideas. Whether your child is talking about the solution to a math problem or a favorite football team’s defensive lineup, encourage sharing thoughts and opinions. Don’t stop at what your child thinks and why; ask your child how he or she knows something.
Encourage your child to keep a journal. Journaling is an excellent way for children to hone the art of expressing themselves. Many children have school journals in which their teachers have them record observations or reactions to certain writing prompts, but a personal journal is a great way for children to put their ideas and feelings in writing, think critically about why they feel the way they do about things, build writing skills and much more.
Get your child involved in extracurricular activities that build communication skills. Activities such as debate team (or similar programs for younger children) are great opportunities for students to form opinions, develop arguments to support those opinions and express them to others. Similarly, student council helps children build leadership and both oral and written communication skills.
Model good communication. The primary way that your child will learn how to communicate is by observing you. So, be present when your child speaks to you. When interacting with others while in your child’s presence, speak clearly and honestly, always saying what you mean in the most unambiguous manner possible. Talk frequently with your child about how to engage others in conversation, how to listen actively and how to get and keep someone’s attention (and how not to).
Work together on good listening. Listening well is a critical part of being an effective communicator. Your child needs to understand that listening involves more than just hearing someone speak; it means focusing on the person speaking while simultaneously processing information. It means watching for non-verbal cues as well as listening to words being spoken. It means confirming understanding after a speaker is finished speaking.
Encourage your child to think about others’ feelings and reactions. People who are self-aware and able to recognize how their actions and words impact others—in other words, those with high emotional intelligence—are generally well equipped to communicate effectively. Some of the building blocks for emotional intelligence include awareness of one’s own (and others’) strengths and weaknesses, perseverance, independence, and assertiveness when joining discussions or expressing ideas. Whenever possible, help your child practice these skills.
Remember: communication is not inherent, but rather, a skill that must be strengthened over time. Work with your child on developing strong communication skills and you will help him or her build skills for lifelong success. No matter what your child does in life, knowing how to communicate with all different types of people will serve him or her well.