Column: Good communication skills are teachableMay 17, 2021
By KACIE SHIPMAN
Youth First Inc.
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word communication as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news.” Communication goes much deeper than words alone. Every day, we communicate through various means of technology, including news and social media, through body language and through our actions.
Communication starts at birth and continues throughout our life span. From infancy, babies use ways to communicate their needs to be fed, soothed or changed. During the toddler years, as language skills develop, so does our communication style.
As parents and caregivers, we model and teach communication. Much of our communication as adults is learned from the environment in which we were raised. Learning to communicate well is an ongoing challenge and takes daily practice.
There are many ways to teach effective communication at any age. During the baby and toddler stages, rolling a ball back and forth helps practice taking turns speaking. It is important to speak clearly to children learning to talk so they understand the correct pronunciation of words. Requiring the child to use words early in life rather than pointing or grunting encourages them to use their voice in communicating needs.
At any age, it takes much practice to develop good listening skills. Teaching children to listen well can take a lot of patience. Practicing listening skills with young children can be done in fun ways, such as playing a game of “Simon Says.” This allows them to practice and develop the skill of listening before acting.
Other communication skills that are important to teach early are body language and manners, which are often part of a preschool curriculum. Body language can include facing the person that is talking, nodding and not interrupting. If your child interrupts during a phone conversation or other important adult conversation, talking with them about the importance of not doing so when it happens will help them succeed.
A goal of positive communication is learning to understand the other person’s point of view. Understanding is crucial during communication. Miscommunication begins with misunderstanding. Even when you disagree with your child, repeating an overview of what they said or what you heard is a good start.
Validation is a key component in communication. Webster identifies validation as “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.” Validation does not mean that you agree with what the person says or believe their opinion as fact. It does mean that you validate their right to have their own beliefs and they are respected whether the statement is one that is agreed upon or not.
By validating someone’s feelings or thoughts, it makes them feel valued and builds upon the skill of understanding in communication. Often times as we move into adulthood, opinions become stronger and deeper.
Communication skills help a person succeed in life. People crave relationships, and when good communication is used, those relationships can thrive. Communication can not only help in personal relationships with significant others and in families, but in professional relationships as well.
If as an adult you find yourself struggling in relationships or in interactions with others, please seek a professional therapist to help you learn to communicate more effectively. It is never too late to start.
Kacie Shipman, LSW, is the Youth First social worker at Springs Valley Elementary and Springs Valley Jr.-Sr. High School in Orange County. Youth First Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 64 Master's level social workers to 92 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First's school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.
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