Can Kids Be Taught to Communicate Effectively? (I think so!)

Over the past several months, I have noticed (in hindsight) ways I have worked with Sarah to develop strong communication skills. It hit me with the most recent occasion, that perhaps I could share what we’ve been doing, in case it helps someone else.

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Middle school and high school are, quite possibly, some of the most awkward times in life. My oldest is about to become a senior in high school — after which, she will be considered an adult and expected to communicate and behave as such. My next daughter is about to become a freshman in high school. Both girls, over the course of this school year, have grown in their communication skills, but it hasn’t been without concerted effort on my husband’s and my part as well as work from them.

For perspective, I manage a team of people in the banking and finance industry and that is probably why it is at the forefront of my mind to prepare my children to communicate as they grow up. I work with people who are afraid to give and receive feedback of any kind because they don’t want a confrontation. And they perceive a simple, straightforward discussion as a confrontation. I often receive verbal and written communication that is vague and ineffective. I am the type of person that operates in a straightforward manner with my peers and my team, because I don’t know any other way. I strive to maintain a respectful approach at all times, and have discovered that people respond well to this approach, even if they don’t have the tools to reciprocate the style.

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Because Sarah is a junior (soon to be senior, gah!) in high school, her teachers have required a bit more mature communication. Thankfully, Sarah has been up to the task most of the time. When she has struggled, we’ve worked through 1) what she doesn’t understand about the teacher’s expectations, 2) what she hopes to accomplish by talking with the teacher to get the information she needs and 3) how to ensure a desired course of action (both from her and her teacher/supervisor/etc).

Dani has been cruising through 8th grade and her communication issues are different. She is still at the point where we are trying to increase her communication with us (parents). She’s come out of her shell a little bit with us this year, and I hope that as time moves forward, she’ll continue to trust us with her questions and struggles so that we can help her.

At times, I’ve reflected on how important it is for the girls to learn how to be straightforward so that they communicate clearly, while maintaining a respectful tone and ensure they don’t lose sight to the purpose of the conversations they need to have with their teachers or even their peers. It seems as though there is not enough emphasis on face-to-face communication these days. Many people prefer to text even over a phone call. I have had to re-train myself, even, to pick up the phone and talk to someone rather than send e-mail after e-mail trying to get an answer to a question. Sarah even acknowledges this challenge among friendships because kids seem to be more interested in developing a friendship via Snapchat than just sitting down and grabbing a coke and talking.

I’m sure there have been nerve-racking times for both of my maturing daughters as they have explored the world of effective communication. If it hasn’t happened yet, it probably will, that they will find themselves with the “upper hand” with regard to communication skills and they’ll experience all of the frustration that can bring. But I’m glad they are working through those circumstances now, with a strong support system at home to help them sort through all of that. My goal is to set them up for success in work life and personal life — being able to communicate effectively is so very important!

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