School may be out – but there are plenty of opportunities for kids to learn how to effectively interact with others. Interpersonal communication is an essential life skill.
Solid communication skills are the foundation for success. Not just in the working world, but perhaps more importantly, good communication skills allow our kids to develop close and rewarding personal relationships and confidence. As a family lawyer, mediator, legal coach, and consultant, I am all about good communication.
I love my work advising individuals, families, and organizational leaders on communication techniques and strategies to foster agreements while strengthening interpersonal relationships. My most important role, however, is as a mom to two teenagers.
These days, kids are spending exorbitant amounts of time on their electronic devices. Texting and social media posting have not just become commonplace. It’s the norm. And like many other parents I talk to about this, I’m really concerned that kids, including mine, are losing the ability to effectively and meaningfully interact with others.
I love this article published in The Atlantic, written by Paul Barnwell, writer, and former middle and high school English teacher titled “My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation.” Barnwell notes that “students’ reliance on screens for communication is detracting—and distracting—from their engagement in real-time talk.”
Essential communication skills include empathy, conversation skills, like basic give and take, listening, and resolving interpersonal conflicts. Yet I’m often amazed at the substantive “conversations” my teens have over text. Things that really should take place in person – or at least by the minimally used “phone” feature of their iPhones.
Let’s face it, in the real world, we need to interact with other people. People whose opinions, views and ideas often differ from our own. And texting is not a substitute for meaningful conversations, social interaction, and non-verbal communication like body language, tone of voice, and eye contact. With all this technology, there is a real need for kids to learn face-to-face skills now more than ever. Because good communication takes time to become a habit.
For kids and adults alike, knowing how to communicate and ask for what we need leads to greater self-efficacy. Self-efficacy measures our belief in our ability to achieve something. In fact, higher self-efficacy invariably leads to less violence and bullying and higher emotional intelligence levels and overall happiness.
Children are eager to learn from their parents. Whether or not they want to admit it. Especially, when they’re younger, before they start observing their peers, they look to parents to guide them. It’s therefore important to teach our kids people skills so they can develop positive and meaningful relationships and succeed in their careers.
So, how can we teach our kids how to interact and effectively communicate with others? Even when we might often struggle with our own communication difficulties?
Here are 4 simple yet effective ways to teach effective interpersonal communication skills to our kids:
1. Allow kids to speak for themselves.
We might be tempted to speak on our kids’ behalf, especially when they’re younger. We might call another parent to arrange a playdate. Or order food for them at a restaurant. But the sooner they start having their own conversations, the faster they’ll learn essential people skills. And become more confident.
When my daughter was 15, I gave her the opportunity to call and order takeout. She was extremely anxious at the thought of making an actual phone call. But I guided her through. And afterward, I noticed her feeling of accomplishment and increased confidence.
2. Model effective social interactions.
Kids learn so much by observing how their parents interact with others. If you and your spouse disagree in front of your children, try and work through it productively. Show respect for your spouse’s point of view while expressing your own. Likewise, if your child sees you looking at your phone while having a conversation with someone, they will learn that’s acceptable. When we make a mistake, we might explain to our child what we did wrong and what we’d do differently next time.
3. Teach them how to listen effectively.
The ability to listen to what others are saying is a key communication skill. You might periodically ask your child to repeat back what you said.
Show them how to read body language and “read between the lines” of what’s being said by another person. Teach them to pay attention to eye contact, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Studies have shown that such body language comprises roughly 70% of all communication.
4. Teach them to resolve conflicts.
Resolving conflicts effectively takes skill – and lots of practice. The first thing to teach kids is empathy – putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. For instance, if siblings are fighting, you might step in and ask each of them how the other might feel in that situation. We might also help kids brainstorm ways to resolve problems with peers. It’s also important to help our kids learn to recognize when they’re at fault. And how to offer a sincere apology.
Our kids look to us for how to show up in the world around them. Teaching them how to relate and get along with others is an incredible gift to them. When our kids know how to communicate well, they’ll be equipped to move onto a successful future that they can embrace with confidence.
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