The importance of communicating

Good communication skills are essential for life. Learn why they are so important and how you can help children learn and practice these skills.

Becoming a narrator is one way to support the development of communication.
Becoming a narrator is one way to support the development of communication.

Communication is the foundation for all human relationships. We use communication as a tool to share with others, understand, resolve conflicts, collaborate and build warm and trusting relationships. Research studies show that infants are able to recognize their own mothers' voices at only a few days old. So if humans are programmed to communicate, if it’s in our DNA, why do we even need to talk about teaching children communication skills?

While the process of communication is a natural drive, it does take skill and practice to be a good communicator. To be able to communicate effectively, it’s important not only to have a mastery of words and language, but to understand, on a larger scale, how to reach out and interact positively with others through spoken word, written word and even body cues.

Supporting the development of communicating

In “Mind in the Making: The seven essential life skills every child needs,” author Ellen Galinsky describes several ways to help young children learn to communicate.

  • Create an environment that values communication. Model and encourage your child to value words, reading and listening by walking the walk at home. Sit down together for a family meal and share about your day, dreams and struggles.
  • Become a narrator. Talk about what your child is looking at, experiencing and what they may be feeling. Although it may feel silly, it’s incredibly important to talk to your child from the moment they are born. Pretend you are narrating a documentary about your life and share your experiences through word to your child.
  • Use “extra talk.” Extra talk is talk that goes beyond “business talk,” like saying wash your hands, set the table, don’t forget your backpack, etc. Extra talk involves extending on what your children are doing or saying. By including extra talk, you can increase your child’s vocabulary and the complexity of their speech.
  • Build on your child’s interests. Children are more engaged in communication if you’re talking about something that really interests them. Find your child’s passions and encourage them to talk about it.
  • Read, read and READ. Reading is a wonderful way to practice language skills, encourage communication, spark imagination and build a strong foundation for communication. Beyond reading books, tell your children stories about your life and ask your children to tell stories about theirs. Stories are woven into the fabric of society, they are passed down and they allow us to share experiences, values and ultimately connect us to each other and the larger world. Give your child books and stories to explore and make reading a family tradition.
  • Play word games. Make up silly rhyming games, teach them tongue twisters and help them learn the alphabet and letter sounds. Children who develop a mastery of words are better communicators.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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