Positive communication is a key life skill

Focus on talking and listening to equip children for success in life.

In addition to the words we say, communication also involves things like facial expressions, body contact, eye contact, and personal space.
In addition to the words we say, communication also involves things like facial expressions, body contact, eye contact, and personal space.

One of the most important gifts you can give to a child is to communicate with him or her by talking and listening. Everyday interactions that take place during communication form the foundation for lasting healthy relationships. Communication consists of much more than just simple conversation. It consists of looks (smiles and frowns), actions and gestures (hugs, gentle touches, signs) and also the actual words we say. Michigan State University Extension's RELAX: Alternatives to Anger educational program recognizes only about 10 percent of our communication consists of the words we say. The other 70 percent is made up of our facial expressions, body contact, eye contact, personal space, tone of voice and body language.

Long before a child actually says words, they are engaged in learning language. Think of all the ways you may have communicated love to a newborn infant. Gently holding and caressing a baby, your face softens, the tone of your voice is quiet and you use a type of language often referred to as “parentese,” a sing-song type of speech that is often accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions.

Consider a conversation with a toddler where you might be redirecting some unwanted behavior. Try dropping to the child’s level by stooping, look directly in their eyes as you touch their arm and tell them they need to choose a different way to express their mad feelings with their sibling.

Learning to match your non-verbal communication with the words you say will make your communication with a child, and other adults, more effective. Remember that young children look to you as a teacher and model; you are teaching them one of the seven essential life skills, considered by author Ellen Galinsky, to be critical for success in life.

Here are six ways to communicate that are positive and can help build healthy relationships. All six are easy to learn and use.

  1. Communicate on level ground. Effective communication requires that you are on the same level with the person with whom you are communicating. Eye contact lets someone know they have your attention and are ready to listen. When communicating with a small child, you may have to sit, kneel or put them on your lap.
  2. Give the other person your full attention. In this busy world we have become master multi-taskers. Give full attention to the person you are conversing with. Turn off the television, set down your phone and pay close attention to what is being said, as well as what is being communicated through non-verbal cues.
  3. Talk “with,” not “at.” Talking “with” someone requires give and take; a two-way conversation. Give a child the same respect you would give an adult. Listening is an important piece of the communication puzzle.
  4. Keep requests simple and firm. Use “I” messages to let someone know what you need or want. “I need you to pick up all the toys from the floor.”
  5. Keep communication positive. Use more “do’s” than “don’ts.” Let children know what you want them to do, not what not to do!
  6. Reflect what the child is saying. Listen attentively to them and rephrase what they have said without advice or judgement. “It sounds as though you are really angry right now.” “What I hear you saying is that you are frustrated with your friend’s behavior.”

Children learn through imitation. They will problem solve, listen, talk and express their emotions in ways they have learned from the adults in their lives. Good communication requires some effort and thought, but is one way you can help children build an essential skill for life and improve adult relationships in your life.

For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you, visit eXtesion.org. To contact an expert in your area, visit the MSU Extension Experts page or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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