Do you remember being taught how to communicate? I certainly don’t. What I remember is being constantly told in school to raise my hand. (I also remember being called “Mighty Mouth.”)  Nevertheless, I now understand that there’s a big difference between talking and communicating.  If you’re lucky enough to be in charge of shaping the future of a youngster or two, I’m sure you’ll agree that our kids model their behavior after what they observe in us.  Hopefully, they’re learning how to effectively use their words and understanding that there may be consequences when they don’t.

In the many daily conversations you have with your kids, I’m certain that you’re always polite and patient when communicating with them.   On the other hand, if you live on planet Earth, here are some more realistic communication skills you can teach your kids, both by outright explanation and also by example.

First, we all should remember to make eye contact.  It shows both respect for the other person and overall interest in the conversation. 

Next, let’s make an effort to clearly and correctly communicate our thoughts.  Using proper language skills illustrates respect for the spoken word, and a gentle correction when necessary (and privately) will make a lasting impression.

Good communicators don’t interrupt.  They take turns talking and listening.  

Have you ever noticed how know-it-alls tend to speak louder and louder, as though their statements are of the utmost importance?  Pay attention to your volume.

Enter and exit a conversation with grace, especially if you’re in a group.  Smile, listen, and wait for an opportunity to appropriately join.  When it’s time to stage your exit, do so politely.  “Nice talking with you” sounds much better than “Gotta go!”  

And the most important tip I can share is to pay attention.  Communication is an exercise in give-and-take to exchange thoughts and information.  That means we need to listen and respond appropriately.  Show you’re paying attention by repeating back what you just heard.  Show you’re interested by asking questions. 

We all have the ability to reinforce these skills in ourselves while we’re setting an example for others.  If one of your kids requires a teaching moment, I suggest that you start your correction sentence with the words, “Next time.”  Beware of embarrassing a child in front of others, and do your best to be specific.  “I happened to overhear you telling your little brother about the car accident, and you said ‘I seen it happen.’  Do you realize he’s hanging on your every word?  Next time, try saying ‘I saw it happen’ instead, and you’ll be teaching him better language skills.”    

If you’re communicating with a three-year-old, you are on the right track if you’re setting an example by utilizing any or all of these suggestions.  On the other hand, if you’re communicating with a 93-year-old, you might not need to set an example.  Instead, take the time to brush up on your own skills.  And feel free to share a few tips of your own.