10 Ways to Foster Communication Skills

By Christa Melnyk Hines

In a world ever distracted by dinging devices, the children who develop a well-rounded set of social skills will stand out.

“We have so many different ways to communicate that kids are going to need to be well-versed in as many as possible to be successful,” says Sarah L. Cook, co-author of The Parents’ Guide to Raising CEO Kids.

Thanks to social media, today’s kids have the ability to access an extensive social network. But, missing from those online interactions are the subtle nonverbal cues that enrich our face-to-face interactions, like tone, voice inflection and facial expressions which can change the entire meaning of a statement. Some experts warn that too much reliance on technology to communicate can impair a child’s ability to read nonverbal cues.

According to Common Sense Media, 72 percent of kids ages 0 to 8 have used a mobile device to play games, watch videos or use apps. The amount of time that they spend with devices has tripled in the past three years, with some research suggesting that kids spend an average of seven hours a day in front of screens.

“We have to make a conscious effort to insist on face-to-face socializing because it would be so easy for kids to rely more and more on screen interactions,” says Dr. Michael Osit, a child psychologist and author of Generation Text: Raising Well-Adjusted Kids in the Age of Instant Everything. “As long as parents and educators continue to involve kids in face-to-face social groups, classroom interactions and family interactions, we can preserve their ability to function in social real time.”

Here’s how you can foster healthy communication skills with your kids:

Talk to your kids. Babies yearn for their parents’ voices. Nothing establishes a stronger parent-child bond than direct interaction with your child long before she can talk for herself. As your child begins to babble and practice language skills, make eye contact, ask open-ended questions and listen to her answers. Share your thoughts, too. Not only will you be nurturing her speech and listening abilities, she’ll learn the back and forth nuances of conversation.

Model appropriate social interaction. Children learn how to interact with friends, family, store employees and strangers by following your lead.

“Be careful about subtle messages such as how (you) incorporate texting, emailing and social networking in interpersonal relationships,” Osit advises.

In other words, put your phone aside when your child is talking to you and when interacting with others like a cashier or restaurant server. Show courtesy toward the other person to help your child learn that the person standing in front of them is the greater priority at the moment.

Pass the mic. Family meetings and meals are great ways to touch base with your busy family. Cook suggests putting each member of the family in charge of a different part of the meeting. For example, one child could begin the meeting by reciting an inspiring poem or scripture while another wraps the meeting with a joke, prayer or song.

Use teachable moments. Discuss social interactions that you and your kids see on TV programs, online or in real life.

“When you’re walking in the mall and you observe kids interacting inappropriately or disrespectfully to an adult, point it out. Ask your child what he thinks about that behavior and help him evaluate it as appropriate or inappropriate,” Osit says.

Listen. Encourage your kids to share their feelings about peers (including those they aren’t friends with), and adults, like teachers and coaches. Discuss ways to manage conflicts and social struggles.

“Parents can shape and enhance their child’s social skills on an on-going basis,” Osit says.

Pick up the phone. Kids can learn to order a pizza or call the dentist to schedule an appointment for themselves.

“I’ve encouraged my kids that if they want to have a playdate, they can call their friend’s parent, and I’ll be there to jump on the phone to back them up,” Cook says. “When they take on more roles that parents typically handle, that allows them to feel confident talking to adults, which is often scary for kids.”

Place an order. Before the server approaches at a restaurant, help your child narrow down what to order off of the menu. Even preschoolers can politely request a glass of milk or water.

Make a purchase at the store. Next time your child wants to spend some of his allowance or gift money, have him conduct the transaction with the cashier. Be there to support him, but allow him to take the lead.

Use video technology. If you travel, call home using Skype or Facetime, or use the apps to connect with relatives. Your kids will grow more comfortable talking on a camera. You can also use birthdays, the first day of school, the holidays or just random moments to interview your kids on your video camera.

Seek interactive activities. Scouting, theater and 4-H give children many opportunities to develop presentation and leadership skills. Also, encourage your child to participate in class plays, musicals and show and tell.

Like anything, the more we practice our communication skills, the better they become and the less anxious we are about managing different situations. Empower your child with the skills to communicate in a variety of situations, and watch her rise to opportunities that come her way with poise and confidence.

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