“I was at a party the other night and I got trapped in the corner by a man who just talked and talked and talked. I tried to give him the signals to end the conversation, but he didn’t pick up on them. What a bore.”
Teaching children how to communicate politely and effectively is one of a parent’s most important tasks. Assuming that children will learn proper communication skills without parental guidance is a big mistake. Parents should begin teaching their children basic communication skills at birth and continue to hone their child’s skills as the child matures. Communicating well with others is a basic tenet of society.
Daily conversations with children are an excellent way for parents to model basic communication skills. Deliberate conversations with children, using polite conversational skills, help lay a foundation for good communication later in life. The parent’s ultimate goal is to raise a person who converses courteously, who listens to what others say, and who is able to clearly express his or her own thoughts, ideas and opinions.
On page 195 of her book, Emily Post’s Etiquette, Peggy Post lists six basics of communication that parents should teach to their kids. First, she advises, make eye contact. It is important that children be taught to establish eye contact with the person with whom they are speaking. Looking directly at the other person in the conversation shows interest and gives respect. Children need to be taught that looking away is a sign of disinterest and is not good manners.
Second, speak clearly and correctly. Using good pronunciation, not rushing speech and using good grammar are all aspects of communication that parents should model for children. Parents should pay attention to how their children are speaking and gently correct without embarrassing. There is no need to correct mistakes in front of others, doing so may cause children to feel self-conscious, inhibiting their speech in public.
Third, take turns and don’t interrupt. Children must be trained not to jump into a conversation just because they feel like talking. It is important that parents curb this behavior and teach children self-control. When a child interrupts, the parent should stop their conversation, firmly tell the interrupting child to wait their turn, and then pick-up the conversation where they left off.
Fourth, pay attention and respond appropriately. Modeling good listening skills to children is the best way to teach good listening. When conversing with children, parents should listen attentively and repeat key phrases back to the child so that the child feels heard. Ask appropriate questions of the child and allow the child to respond. Show interest in what the child has to say. The best conversationalists are those who listen well.
Fifth, enter conversations politely. There is a correct way to join a conversation that uses good manners. If parents consistently demonstrate how to politely enter a conversation, overtime, children will learn the practice. Parents should show children how to approach the group quietly, smile to those in conversation, listen to what people are saying, and wait until they are spoken to before speaking.
It is also important for parents to teach children how to behave politely when someone joins an active conversation. Those in the group should smile and nod to recognize the person joining them, when the speaker finishes, the group can greet the newcomer and make introductions.
Finally, Post notes that one should end conversations pleasantly. Walking away from a conversation with good manners is a crucial skill to possess and one that parents should work hard at teaching to their children. Parents should encourage children to leave a conversation saying some pleasantry such as, “I promised my cousin that I would throw the ball with him and so I need to go now, but it was really nice talking to you.”
Other important skills that parents should focus on when teaching children basic communicational skills are controlling volume, not using “potty talk” and keeping private matters private.
Parents should also help children to understand nonverbal communication and cues. Rude facial expressions like eye rolling and grimaces as well as yawning at a speaker, hair twisting, turning one’s back to the speaker, finger nail picking and checking one’s watch, are all bad manners. Children need to learn that their nonverbal actions and behaviors can make people feel badly.
Learning to read other people’s nonverbal cues is an important lesson too, and with time, children will begin to understand when to end conversations, finish a story or change a subject.
Being an adept communicator is a necessary skill in today’s world. Children need guidance from their parents to learn how to communicate effectively and politely. Good listening skills, self-control, use of good grammar, and sensitivity are all skills that are learned. If parents start modeling conversation skills early, they will help their children develop refined and sophisticated communication behaviors that will benefit them greatly in adulthood.