Good communication skills are essential for adults and children. Learning how to express feelings, ideas and needs may come naturally to some kids, while others must struggle to make themselves understood. Teaching good communication skills to your child, regardless of his age, can help prepare him for success as an adult.
Set aside one or two times each day to focus on building your child’s communication skills. Choose a comfortable location where the two of you can relax while still looking at each other. Get rid of all distractions by turning off cell phones, televisions, radios and other disruptive devices. Practice active listening, allowing your child to speak what’s on his mind.
Ask your child open-ended questions about his day, his goals, his friends, his achievements and his feelings, during your scheduled communication periods. Begin by focusing on topics he is comfortable with, such as sports and television shows. Avoid questions he can easily answer with a brief response, such as a yes, no or maybe answer. Encourage him to notice your body language and to look you in the eye while he is speaking.
Teach your child to send a clear message by using the word “I” when speaking about his feelings. Let him know you want to hear about his feelings regarding his activities, not just about his actions. Talking about your own emotions in a nonjudgmental way can set a good example and encourage him to examine his feelings and learn to take responsibility for them, rather than blaming others.
Repeat your child’s message back to him, using your own words to tell him what you heard him say. Ask if what you heard was what he meant. Express interest in his comments by using your body language — leaning forward, nodding and raising your eyebrows. Ask him to tell you what he thinks your body language is saying about the conversation. Encourage him to use body language to help get his points across. Let him know what you think his body language is saying, especially when his actions don’t match his words. During your conversation sessions, guess what he is feeling and have him guess what you are feeling, based on the words and the actions.
Reinforce the communication skills learned in your daily sessions by discussing topics as they arise. For instance, use your time commuting to discuss what type of cars he likes as traffic goes by. Use grocery-shopping time to discuss what foods he enjoys and what meals he would like to try. Talk about the impressions you get from passersby or actors on television, based on their body language and facial expressions.