One of the most important skills we all should learn is to properly communicate with others. This looks different for everyone, as some individuals have different abilities that may change how they communicate with others. Examples include learning American Sign Language for deaf and hard of hearing individuals, Braille for visually and sight-impaired individuals, and Modified Sign Language for autistic individuals.

Communication skills involve listening, speaking, observing, and empathizing with other people and animals. There are four main types of communication you might use, including:

1. Verbal: communicating by way of a spoken language

2. Nonverbal: communicating by way of body language, facial expressions, and vocalics

3. Written: communicating by way of written language, symbols, and numbers

4. Visual: communication by way of photography, art, drawings, sketches, videos, charts, and graphs.

Visit ADNY Parent Resource Page

· For autistic children: https://autismawarenesscentre.com/improving-communication-behavior/

· For visually impaired children: https://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/non-verbal-communication.html

· For deaf children: https://academic.oup.com/jdsde/article/15/3/228/425339

A key component of communication is the ability to use your body language when expressing yourself. One way to practice this with children is to role-model body language to show different ways of communicating their feelings, demonstrate that they’re listening or paying attention, and notify someone if they want or need something.

Facial Expressions

To practice expressing emotions/feelings with their body language, you can play a game with your child to see which facial expressions represent each emotion/feeling. You can use an emoji chart to have your child learn each facial expression that is connected to each emotion/feeling. The emoji chart below provides several emotions/feelings that you can teach your child and then have them practice.

This is just one example; there are many charts of facial expressions that you can find online and use for free.

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Paying Attention and Listening

To teach children to show they are listening or paying attention, there are a few things that they need to do as far as their body language is concerned.

1. Their body should be turned toward the speaker, with their arms and hands in a neutral position (arms not folded, but at their sides, on a desk, or on their lap). You can practice this with your child while helping them with homework or telling them a story.

2. Your child should show the proper facial expressions that indicate their interest in the speaker; they should also make eye contact with the speaker. Some children find it difficult to look at the eyes of someone they are speaking with, so you can help them practice looking at the speaker’s eyebrows or forehead as an alternative.

3. The child should be not doing anything else while listening unless instructed to do so, such as taking notes for school. Practicing putting down electronics, turning off televisions and radios, and eliminating any distractions in order to listen attentively is an important lesson in showing that one is engaged and paying attention.

4. A child should be responsive, not be interruptive, and ask related questions about the information from the speaker. All these actions will show the speaker that the child is listening attentively and actively paying attention.

Body Language

Body language can also be used to express wants and needs of your child. There is a certain etiquette to this body language, however, that is important for your child to know when expressing their needs. For example, there are situations where pointing is not a polite way to express interest, such as when a child points at others with different abilities. Practicing using the body to express oneself while in a comfortable situation can help your child to understand and know what type of body language to use to express themselves. Practicing facial expressions with your child is a seamless transition to begin working on body language to express their wants and needs. Once your child has mastered body language, you can help them learn more about the other types of communication.

How to Practice Communication Skills

When you are working with your child on communication skills, try to work some fun into practicing the different methods. You can practice writing with your child by creating stories that you can read at bedtime. Depending on your child’s age, you can work on texting and phone etiquette by sending funny messages or having conversations using their imagination. You can practice tough conversations with your child by writing out the information like a script and then role-modeling how to communicate the information to others.

When your child is practicing communicating with others, remember to help them be clear, concise, and easy to understand. When someone speaks too loudly, it can be disrespectful or awkward, depending on the situation. If they speak too low, their audience might have trouble hearing. You can also help your child understand that when they talk to others, they should show friendly traits such as honesty, kindness, positivity, smiling, nodding, and having an open mind.

Practicing communication skills with your child can also be helpful in building their confidence. Teach them to accept feedback from others, especially their teachers. Feedback should be constructive and provide them with ways to improve their actions. It is important for children to understand that constructive feedback is not negative; rather, mistakes are part of the learning process to help them grow.

Communication Traits

There are a few other traits that you can teach your children to help them communicate, such as assertiveness, empathy, and mutual respect.

· Assertiveness is standing up for oneself by speaking up and setting boundaries in relation to others. You can teach assertiveness by giving your child decision-making opportunities, role-modeling assertiveness, encouraging extracurricular

activities, respecting your child’s privacy, encouraging expression of their feelings, and praising your child’s assertions.

· Empathy is the ability to understand and share other’s feelings. You can teach your child empathy by helping them understand emotions and feelings and how to connect and help others.

· Mutual respect is treating others how you want to be treated. Teach mutual respect by helping your child understand their feelings toward others, how to treat others with kindness, how to think about others’ needs and wants, how to trust others, how to be fair, and how to share in the happiness of others’ successes.

By teaching and practicing communication skills with your child, you are setting them up for success in school, relationships, and future work.

Overall, communication skills are critical for children to learn, as these skills allow kids to express themselves to others in effective ways. Teaching your child about body language, assertiveness, empathy, mutual respect, writing skills, friendly traits, and constructive feedback go a long way toward making them great communicators. Learning these skills not only helps them build confidence as they grow older, but it will also bring you and your child closer together.

Adapting to Change

A lesson that has been drilled into our brains throughout the past year is that change is constant. The COVID-19 pandemic forced upon us many changes that required us to adapt. When we are dealing with change, there are a few ways to alleviate anxiety or worries about the future. You can teach these to your children to help them through life.

· Patience is key when it comes to change. Allow yourself time to adjust to changes as they come. Patience is a skill to be learned and practiced, because it does not come easily to everyone. You can help role-model patience for your child and practice it with small adjustments, such as a change in routine or a snack. Everyone learns at their own pace, so give your child and yourself as much time as possible to adjust to the new changes in your lives.

· Embracing all positivity around each situation is another skill to learn. Even negative changes can have positive aspects if you look for them. Emotional changes are the most difficult to deal with, as they often require time to process your feelings. Keep this in mind for your children, as they will likely go through their own emotional change along with you. Take responsibility for how you deal with changes. Write down how you reacted to the last three changes in your life. Were they positive or negative reactions? Did you give yourself patience and time to adjust? Work on this activity with your child so they understand how to take responsibility for their actions concerning change. Perhaps the most important thing to remember: you do not have to deal with change alone. It is often quite helpful to talk to friends or family members who are dealing with the same changes.

There are other options for you and your child to use if you want to talk through life changes. Seek out support groups (some are on social media), counselors, social workers, therapists, school counselors, or even doctors/pediatricians. You can also find ways to deal with changes and the feelings that come with them. Use coping skills, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga, counting, stress balls, positive self-talk, calming jars, reading, cleaning, journaling, exercising, dancing, drawing, playing with slime/play-dough, or any other activity that relaxes and calms the mind.

Remember…you don’t have to like change, but it is a fact of life. You are not alone in dealing with change, so practice patience, give yourself and your child time to adjust, find someone to talk to, employ the coping skills that help you feel calm, and look for the positive parts of the change and focus on them. Discovering the ways that you and your child handle change can help you both deal with change in a healthy manner. We are all in this together and will find ways to adapt to the changes in our lives.

About the Author:

Jessica Miller