Communication Skills: How Early Should You Teach Your Kids?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The key to any successful relationship is communication – the willingness to open up and exchange information about our thoughts, ideas or concerns. But how do we create this sense of openness in our children? How can we support their development in becoming good communicators?

Here are 5 tried and tested ways to improve communication between children, their siblings and parents:

1. Get to know your child’s communication style and support it

Some children prefer to express themselves at different times throughout the day. The goal is to find out what communication style they are comfortable with, and encourage or nurture it by giving them your full attention.

A personal example is the communication style of my 4 y/o Kian. We noticed that he loved having chats at night, after story time and just when we tucked him in and said good night. On the way out of his room, he would try to bring up something that happened at school but we always dismissed it and cut him short by saying “It’s time to sleep sweetie, we’ll talk in the morning”. We did that simply because we thought he was avoiding going to bed and wanted to stay up for longer.

It wasn’t until he was going through a behavioural change at school and his teachers reported that they were having difficulty communicating with him. His responses were always “I don’t know” because he simply wasn’t interested in talking. Since I do the school pickups, I always thought the drive back home was a great time to engage him in conversations but I also realised his responses were short as well. He always said: “Mama I want to be quiet, I don’t want to talk”. Car rides for him was the time to reflect on his day and he simply wasn’t interested in talking to anyone.

So one night I decided to capitalise on his “avoidance to go to sleep” and stayed in his room a little longer to listen to ALL he had to say. He answered every question I asked in detail and I could understand better why he was going through that change at school. It was truly an awakening moment for me as a mother.

We then decided to start bath and bedtime routine earlier, take him to bed earlier, so that we have enough time to chat about his day before he had to go to bed.

We concluded that his environment plays a crucial role in his communication style. He prefers to feel relaxed, comfortable and get the full attention from us as parents, instead of talking to us when we’re trying to multitask with a 100 different things.

2. Words are powerful – use them to express your emotions

Common phrases we use in our home are: 
“Use your words”
“Use your words, not your tears”
“Use your words, no hitting”

I personally believe it is crucial, very early on in childhood, to reiterate the importance of using words instead of actions. This is in no way to treat the famous quote “actions speak louder than words” as inferior, but in young children actions could involve hitting, crying, tantrums or any other dramatic way of expressing their feelings.

We should explain to young children and remind them that we can express our dissatisfaction, anger or stress with words, same way we do when we are excited. For example if two siblings are fighting and one gets upset, remind them that hitting is not the solution. A simple hand gesture with the words “Stop it, I don’t like it” is more powerful. 

Another example is when my children want to get something from us and choose to communicate it with tears, instead of their words. I frequently tell them “I can’t hear you, I’ll be able to understand why you’re upset when you talk normally so stop crying”. For me, that is an invitation to not only communicate better with words, but also to express their emotions and how they feel about that particular situation.

3. Create talking traditions and games

Talk about yourself if you want your kids to talk about themselves. Start by telling them about your day and sharing your stories. In our fast paced digital era, it is important for your children to understand that human interaction is crucial.

Some households with older children organise “talking nights” where family members gather and simply talk to each other. They tell stories about their week and share their biggest achievements, or disappointments. This is a special evening of fun and games created especially for family members. Chances are everyone is so busy with their schedule that if we do not allocate a special time for conversations, this might never happen. So think about creating your own rituals and traditions- and see how fun they are. As with any family activity, this experience will also create a stronger bond between the family members that will have a positive impact on your children’s future.

4. Encourage literacy in storytelling

Help them by asking questions like: “Who was there with you?”, “Why did you go there?”, “What happened at the end?”. Show your undivided attention and interest in their story. 

Help your children along the way as they tell a story, in order to hear it from beginning to end. Lead by example when you communicate with your children and show them the right way of telling a story.

5. Listen to the details

Details matter to children and they should matter to us. Often times children get excited about the detail of a story and that might seem trivial to us as parents, causing us to dismiss it. Make sure you do notice those details and ask questions about them, because that could explain a particular emotion. Be reactive to their excitement too and show them that you support their enthusiasm.

Do not forget to teach your children that with words comes responsibility.

Free speech is a great and liberating concept but try to teach children early on that with words comes responsibility. It is great to encourage your children to express what they think or feel but words can be hurtful and can have consequences, especially with the way they communicate to their friends at school. Let them know that although words can help us to express ourselves, simultaneously they can also create hurt to someone else if they’re not used sensitively.

It is your responsibility as a parent to explain why bullying is wrong, talking about a person’s appearance/disability or voicing your opinions (no matter how true) is not always a good thing to do. Using words in a negative way, in order to hurt another human is not good.  Teach your children how to be kind and show them that using your words is an art in itself that requires emotional intelligence.

In the next blog about communication, I’ll be sharing a few books that can help you encourage communication in your children, so stay tuned.

Love,
Adanna

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18 Comments

  1. March 5, 2020 / 6:27 pm

    This was a good read! I’m trying to get my 4 year old to express himself and talk more. I feel he likes to be left alone all the time but I’m trying to help him engage more. His sister is about 18 months and she really does express herself with a few words and gestures already.

    I’ll try to implement more of the talking traditions asides book reading and storytelling. Thank you for sharing this Adanna.

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:30 pm

      You’re welcome Tolu. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I’m glad you found it relevant. You’re doing a great job trying to engage your 4 y/o more, that’s really all we can do as parents so well done xx

  2. Mary Umoh
    March 5, 2020 / 6:48 pm

    Thank you for this post Adanna. As a mum to two girls(Zoe 4 by April and Beulah 2 years old),I totally understand and agree about the talking to your children bit. When you know how to effectively communicate, the parenting job gets easier. I especially like the “ use your words not your tears” phrase. Will definitely be using that a lot and the talking tradition. Looking forward to your next blog for the books. Regards to your lovely family ❤️

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:27 pm

      Congratulations on your beautiful girls. I’m glad this post inspired you to use a new phrase in your home 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read the blogs x

  3. Dolapo
    March 5, 2020 / 7:42 pm

    I really love this piece Adanna. I have an almost two year old and a 6 month old. I’ve been preparing myself for when they start talking and communicating. We do our best to talk and read to our sons even though they can’t respond very well now. This post has taught me a lot and I can’t wait to start communicating effectively with them! Thank you <3

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:23 pm

      Congratulations on your beautiful children Dolapo, you super mama! You’re already doing great reading to them and it doesn’t matter whether or not they respond to you. I’m glad to hear you found this post useful 🙂 Please share it to anyone you believe may also find it useful x

  4. March 5, 2020 / 7:44 pm

    That was amazing, well written and very well explained. I really wish I could write like this… but I always have had difficulty with writing essays at school, so I can’t even Express myself with words; as you can see I am already going off topic.

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:21 pm

      You’re definitely not going off topic. Keep putting words to paper, no matter how unpolished you think they are. Practice makes perfect so you’ll get better with time 🙂

  5. Catherine
    March 5, 2020 / 8:55 pm

    Wow extremely educative…thank Adanna &David family .

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:19 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read it 🙂 x

  6. Monica
    March 5, 2020 / 9:32 pm

    Thank you so much for this .

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:19 pm

      You’re welcome 🙂 x

  7. Toini
    March 5, 2020 / 10:22 pm

    This was really informative. I can actually relate or reflect back about me and my daughters communication. With this I read I can improve on our communication. Thank you so much.

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:19 pm

      You’re welcome. I’m so glad you found it informative x

  8. March 9, 2020 / 6:15 am

    Hey adannadavid, I’m a big fan love everything video. I was wondering if you could help me promote my website.

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 27, 2020 / 11:14 am

      Congratulations on the work you’re doing. I hope everyone sees this xx

  9. March 23, 2020 / 3:12 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. How early do you start teaching your child how to communicate?

    • AdannaDavid
      Author
      March 26, 2020 / 11:34 pm

      Thank you for reading it, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t believe there’s any predefined age to teach children how to communicate. In my opinion it starts from birth, and isn’t limited to verbal communication alone. We have to make the effort as parents to interact with our children from the very beginning 🙂

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