Posted: April 5th, 2010 by Michele Borba
Teaching children how to communicate effectively is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Few skills increase their confidence, social competence and self-esteem more because kids use these skills in every area of their lives. We also know that many kids have difficulty reading emotions. Duke and UCLA are just two of the many universities researching ways to help children diagnosed with communication handicaps. The good news is that you can improve your child’s communication skills and boost his or her emotional intelligence. Here are eight ways to do so:
1. Listen more attentively. Attentive listening keeps the lines of communication open so that your children always feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences with you. You discourage your kids from expression themselves when you cut them off, deny their feelings, lecture, order them, roll your eyes, shrug your shoulders, raise your eyebrows, frown, turn away, or shake your head. (Woah, eh? Not to send you a guilt trip, but… do tune into your communication skills a bit closer, and beware of how influential you are).
2. Help your children send and receive nonverbal messages. Sending and receiving nonverbal messages through body language enhances your child’s social and emotional competence. Often kids don’t listen to your words as much as they watch your posture, gestures, and facial expression, and hear the tone of your voice. Help children understand that their body posture, facial expression, and voice tone send messages and that if they don’t interpret or send nonverbal messages correctly, serious misunderstandings occur.
3. Teach two critical skills-eyes contact and smiling. Using the skills of eye contact and smiling increases children’s social success. As you talk with your child, use eye contact. Whenever your child displays a great smile, point it out! By reinforcing these skills and modeling them regularly, your child will soon be smiling more and using eye contact. Hint: These two skills are the most commonly used traits of well-liked kids. They are also easy to teach!.
4. Make an emotion scrapbook. Collect pictures of facial expression in a scrapbook. Include the six basic emotions: happy, sad, angry, surprised, afraid, and disgusted. Now make a game of naming the emotions by asking, “How is this person feeling?” Help your child predict the body language and voice tone that would accompany each expression.
5. Guess people’s emotions. With your child, watch other people’s faces and body language at the playgound, park, or shopping mall. Try together to guess their emotional states.
6. Watch silent movies. Turn off the sound on your TV and watch a show together. Guess how the actors feel based on what you see. Tension behaviors include blinking eyes rapidly, biting nails, twirling hair, clenching jaws, and grinding teeth. Withdrawal behavior include folded arms, crossed legs, rolling eyes, and not facing the speaker. Expressions of interest include nodding, smiling, leaning into the speaker and standing or sitting close to the person.
7. Play emotion charades. A fun game is to have family members play charades using only their face and body. Try to guess the person’s emotion.
8. Observe good listening behaviors. Be on the alert for people demonstrating good listening habits; point them out to your child. The better your child understands what good nonverbal listening behaviors look like, the greater the chance he will use them on his own.
Learning these skills takes practice. At home, provide opportunities for your child to practice a wide range of communication skills, enabling her to get her point across more confidently in the real world.
Just remember: it’s never too early–or too late–to enhance communication skills.
More (really — it’s over 700 pages of a complete parenting reference) of research-based strategies are also available in my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. In particular, check out Part 4: Emotions and the 12 chapters.