The path to success in any relationship is paved with healthy communication skills. Because communication is a learned skill, sadly, many people are lacking in this area. Past generations of parents paid little or no attention to teaching their children the art of communication.
Fortunately many of today’s parents are aware of the importance of communicating in a healthy way; but still many are not clear how to begin teaching these skills to their children. And if they didn’t receive good communicating skills as children they are at the same time trying to integrate these skills themselves. But the wonderful news is that learning to communicate well can be learned by anyone at any time!
4 Steps to Healthy Communication:
1. In order to communicate successfully we must first be able to clearly identify our thoughts and feelings. A very simple way to do this is to make a list of emotions and their definitions. For younger children I suggest helping them draw pictures rather than writing out definitions.
A suggested list of emotions:
These are only a few to get you started…your list should be as long as you want to make it! And can be added to as your child’s vocabulary increases.
2. Next we must learn to translate our thoughts and feelings into words. Now that you have a list of emotions and their definitions, go over them with your child. The goal is to be sure THEY understand the meaning of each emotion. You will want to be very specific with this step to help them learn the true meanings.
For instance, it can be very easy to use feeling ‘sad’ with many other negative emotions…if one is frustrated or confused they could simply just use ‘sad’ to convey their feelings. But to communicate clearly a more in depth and specific language is helpful. Another great way to help children identify the correct word to fit their emotion is to help them recall personal examples of each one.
3. Once your child has a clear understanding of the most common human emotions they are ready to learn to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that the other person will be open to hearing them. I refer to this as ‘couching’. The way in which you ‘couch’ your thoughts, feelings and opinions will greatly determine how well they are received.
It is important to teach children that the first rule of thumb is to always remember that our thoughts, feelings and ideas belong to us…they are OUR thoughts and feelings and opinions. And that does not make them a fact for anyone else. When expressing feelings, thoughts and ideas the word ‘you’ should not be used.
For example, rather than saying ‘you’ hurt my feelings and made me feel ‘sad’, you would say ‘I’ felt sad when you said…. In other words we must help our children understand that their feelings, thoughts and ideas are theirs to own. And they cannot and should not be projected onto anyone else.
When you communicate your feelings, thoughts and ideas from a place of ownership you remove the risk of making the one being spoken to from feeling attacked.
Healthy communication is the foundation of relating in a way that helps others understand us. When we approach someone in an accusatory manner… “You” said or did or whatever the case may be, you have immediately created a situation where the other person will respond defensively.
4. And finally we must impress upon children the need to be willing and open to listening to the other person carefully giving them their full attention. The art of listening is a skill in itself that needs to be learned and developed, however, in children the most important step is to teach them to always remember to give the other person the same respect and attention they want to receive when they are speaking.
Learning to communicate in a healthy way is a process that is learned and perfected over time according their age and level of maturity. Using these 4 basic steps will lay a solid foundation to build from.
When we can clearly communicate to one another, respecting each other’s feelings, thoughts and opinions we can prevent and avoid unnecessary conflicts while building strong mutually respectful relationships.