Let’s Get Talking: Healthy Communication
Did you know? Healthy communication skills can help protect children
Communication is an important part of any relationship – and developing healthy communication skills is a lifelong journey.
According to the CDC, healthy communication is a skill that can help prevent sexual violence. Technically, communication is classified as a “social-emotional skill” – meaning it’s a skill that helps people relate to each other. When it comes to preventing sexual assault and enforcing boundaries, healthy communication helps teach children about effective and appropriate ways to to communicate their needs or experiences.
If a child has skills to talk to trusted adults about anything, they’re more likely to share when something new, uncomfortable, or challenging comes up. And if a child grows up practicing their communication skills, they’ll be better prepared to speak up for themselves and enforce their boundaries.
Some helpful tips before you start
- Pay attention to timing and the child’s energy. Kids can be pretty wiped (physically, mentally and emotionally) after a day, so if they don’t seem to want to answer questions, take their lead and try again when timing seems better.
- Though we’re share a lot of questions in this list, remember, questions can be taxing mentally on kids after a full day of being ‘on’ at school. Feel free to adapt any questions into invitations that allow children to open up without the pressure of providing an answer. You can use phrases like “I wonder” to show your child that you’re curious about their world, their experiences, and that you think of them when you aren’t together.
- Be okay with waiting and make sure you give your child time to respond. Your five-year-old may need a full minute to process one question or prompt before they’re ready to fully express themselves.
Ways to nurture healthy and open communication
One of the most protective things you can do as an adult is to establish clear, open, and authentic lines of communication with the children you care for.
Here are a few ways to support healthy communication:
- Show children that you hear, see, and notice them for the individual and unique person they are.
Ex: “You’ve shared that you love reading! What are you reading about in [class name]?”
- Help children reflect on situations to understand them better:
Ex: “It sounds like you had a good time learning today! What did you enjoy doing today?”
- Give children time to think, and show them you’re listening when they’re ready to share:
Ex: “You don’t have to have an answer right now. Think about it for a little and get back to me. I’d love to know what you think when you’re ready to share!”
- Ask questions to help kids express themselves more specifically when it sounds like children are making generalizations. Seek to understand before rushing to rescue or fix a problem.
Ex: You hear “They are mean” – try asking “What does it look like when they are mean?” and “How do others react when they are mean?” and “How does it make you feel when they are mean?”
- Move beyond yes or no questions – give kids the opportunity to share by asking open-ended questions that start with what, why, how, when, tell me about:
Ex: “What did you notice about your new classroom?” or “How were you feeling about the day when you first got to school?” or “Did anyone do anything funny today?”
- Making time and space for a child when they want to express something to you helps build the trust that you are there for anything and to listen – especially when it comes to things that might be hard or scary to talk about.
Ex: “I’m so glad you shared that with me. I love hearing about the people you meet.”
Note: Some of these suggestions might be geared for children older or younger than those you’re talking to. Feel free to adapt any questions to better fit your life.
Check back for future blog posts about layering in specific protective factors like empathy, emotional health and connectedness, academic achievement, conflict resolution, body autonomy, and more.
Blog contributors include the fabulous Malia Segal, children’s therapist.