Elements of a Confident Kid… Skilled Communicator

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements...skilled communicator illust by Jennifer Miller

/ke myu ne kate/

to get someone to understand your thoughts and feelings1

A confident kid is also a skilled communicator. Being able to communicate effectively with others can determine a child’s ability to successfully pursue friendships, school assignments, career goals and family relationships. Certainly communication is learned through modeling – by watching others at home and school. But so often, people talk over one another. They look at their phone while another is engaging them in conversation. They have the television on and tempt the listener to divide attention away from the speaker. So what does it take to be a skilled communicator? First, it takes practice and intentionality since we may not typically be in the habit of modeling skilled communication in our home lives. The skilled communicator

– uses language that is understandable to the listener.
– expresses thoughts and feelings through words and nonverbal expressions to provide meaning.
– listens well, deeply and completely.
– asks clarifying questions to better understand the other person.
– rephrases what the other has said to check for understanding.
– listens to the words and notices the tone of voice, body posture, facial expressions and emotional cues to make meaning.
– provides empathetic comments that focus on the other person and what they have
shared (versus comments that refocus the conversation on yourself and your own
– realizes that there are differing communication styles and ways of expressing emotion and works at understanding the differences in order to make connections.

Cultures also vary widely in the way that they communicate emotion. Some feel communicating any emotion at all is embarrassing or a sign of weakness. Others would not enter a conversation without including emotions as critical clues to the meaning behind what they are saying. So it takes additional effort, focus and skill to be able to communicate with people of different cultures. Sally Planalp, author of Communicating Emotion; Social, Moral and Cultural Processes writes, “…supported by much research, communicating emotion between cultures seems to be easy at a relatively superficial level and quite difficult at a deeper and more subtle level, just as it is within cultures.” 2 Families each have their own culture using language and a communication style that is different, though it may be subtle, from neighborhoods, school friends or work colleagues. An awareness that communication is fundamental to relationships and requires some effort is an important step toward helping your family become better communicators.

Strategies to Promote Skilled Communication

For Adults with Kids:

Position Yourself on Eye Level – If you are having a conversation with your child, be sure and get down on their eye level. Pull up a chair or sit on the floor (if you can!). Your child may be more willing to share thoughts and feelings with you because he/she feels more of a sense of control when you are meeting eye to eye.

Use Blocks to Facilitate Conversation – When talking at the dinner table, bring a stack of blocks. Start a conversation and lay down the first block. As each person adds to the conversation, they can contribute by placing on the next block. The tower may fall apart if the speaker does not connect their comments or questions to what was said before them. This terrific idea is borrowed from Responsive Classroom educators Kathleen Sheehy and Emily Young, who use this approach in their classrooms. 3

Employ the “Me too!” Rule – Another idea from Sheehy and Young is the “Me too!” rule. It’s human nature to want to make connections to what a person is saying. Sometimes, we are overcome with excitement wanting to share that “I too” love guinea pigs, for example. Establish a family symbol for “Me too!” and use it whenever there is a temptation to interrupt. It could be a “thumbs up” or a raised hand.

Play “Pass the Story” – Kids love this game because they have a well-rehearsed sense of imagination. Start off a story with one sentence. “There once was a green skunk who liked libraries…” Each person gets to contribute one sentence to build upon the last. See what kind of interesting story you can create collaboratively. This game offers practice in listening for meaning and taking turns speaking.

For Adults to Practice:

Pause – First, notice how often you pause to think after something has been said in a conversation. Try to add a pause before speaking. It may feel awkward at first. But it allows the speaker to fully get out what they are trying to say. And then, it provides the empty space for thinking about what has been said. For more on the importance of wait times in dialogue, check out “The Chance to Wait.”

Take the “Name the Feeling” Challenge – For most, this will not come naturally so it requires practice. Add feeling words to your conversations. You will be modeling a feelings vocabulary for your children. You’ll also provide the listener with critical insights into what you are saying beyond the thoughts you are expressing.

Assume the Best Intentions – When entering a conversation with a spouse or child, assume only the best first. They may have made mistakes in the past that are putting you on guard. However if you start the conversation with caution and anxiety, the other is going to feel on guard as well. It’s likely you will not be able to achieve what you want to with the conversation because the listener is not as likely to share their deeper thoughts and feelings when there’s distrust from the onset.

Being a skilled communicator can help you and your children in every aspect of getting along and working together to achieve individual and family goals. These simple exercises will help you and your children hone your skills together.


1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on 9-30-14 on http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/communicate.

2. Planalp, S. (1999). Communicating Emotion; Social, Moral and Cultural Processes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

3. Sheehy, K. and Young, E. (2014). Teaching Skillful Communication; A Standards-based Approach to Morning Meeting Sharing. Responsive Classroom Newsletter, Summer, 2014. https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/article/teaching-skillful-communication

6 Comments on “Elements of a Confident Kid… Skilled Communicator”

  1. I would also say, communicate with young kids way above their level, at least if truth requires it. That’s how we learn, by hearing stuff we didn’t already understand. We had no sort of censorship, or even “age-appropriate” talk in our house, and my girls – 16 and 20 years old – are brilliant, straight As all the way, top scholars.

    • You are absolutely right. Children who get the opportunity to have regular conversations with adults – in which the adults talk to them with intelligence and respect – provide valuable modeling. Kids become more comfortable speaking with adults and expand their vocabulary and thinking. Great point! Thank you!!

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