In a world ever distracted by dinging devices, children who develop a well-rounded set of communication skills will stand out in the digital-focused crowd.

“We have so many different ways to communicate that kids are going to need to be well-versed in as many as possible to be successful,” says Sarah L. Cook, co-author of The Parents’ Guide to Raising CEO Kids.

Thanks to social media, today’s kids have the ability to access an extensive social net-work. But, missing from those online interactions are the subtle nonverbal cues that enrich our face to face interactions, like tone, voice inflection and facial expressions which can change the entire meaning of a statement. Some experts warn that too much reliance on technology to communicate can impair a child’s ability to read nonverbal cues.

“We have to make a conscious effort to insist on face to face socializing because it would be so easy for kids to rely more and more on screen interactions,” says Dr. Michael Osit, a child psychologist and author of Generation Text: Raising Well-Adjusted Kids in the Age of Instant Everything. “As long as parents and educators continue to involve kids in face to face social groups, classroom interactions and family interactions, we can preserve their ability to function in social real time.”

Talk to your kids. From the time your child can talk, ask open-ended questions and listen to their answers. “What was the best part of your day? Why?” Share your thoughts, too. Not only will this practice help their speech and listening abilities, they will learn the back and forth nuances of conversation.

Model appropriate social interaction.>/span> Children learn how to interact with friends, family, store employees and strangers by following your lead. 

“Be careful about subtle messages such as how (you) incorporate texting, emailing and social networking in interpersonal relationships,” Osit advises. 

For example, put your phone aside when your child is talking to you and when interacting with a cashier or restaurant server. Make eye contact and show courtesy toward the other person to help your child learn that the person standing in front of them is the greater priority at the moment.

Pass the mic. Family meetings and meals are great ways to touch base with your busy family. Cook suggests putting each member of the family in charge of a different part of the meeting. For example, one child could begin the meeting by reciting an inspiring poem or scripture while another wraps the meeting with a joke, prayer or song. 

Use teachable moments. Discuss social interactions that you and your kids see on TV programs, online or in real life. 

For example, “When you are walking in the mall and you observe kids interacting inappropriately or disrespectfully to an adult, point it out. Ask your child what he thinks about that behavior and help him evaluate it as appropriate or inappropriate,” Osit says.

Listen. Encourage your kids to share their feelings about peers (including those they aren’t friends with), and adults, like teachers and coaches.

“Parents can shape and enhance their child’s social skills on an on-going basis,” Osit says. 

Pick up the phone. Kids can learn to order a pizza or call the dentist to schedule an appointment for themselves. 

“I’ve encouraged my kids that if they want to have a playdate, they can call their friend’s parent, and I’ll be there to jump on the phone to back them up,” Cook says. “When they take on more roles that parents typically handle, that allows them to feel confident talking to adults, which is often scary for kids.”

Place an order. Before the server approaches at a restaurant, help your child narrow down what to order off of the menu. Even preschoolers can politely request a glass of milk or water. 

Make a purchase at the store. Next time your child wants to spend some of his allowance or gift money, have him conduct the transaction with the cashier. Be there to support him, but allow him to take the lead.

Use video technology. If you travel, call home using Skype or Facetime, or use the apps to connect with relatives. Your kids will grow more comfortable talking on a camera. You can also use birthdays, the first day of school, the holidays or just random moments to interview your kids on your video camera. 

Seek interactive activities. Scouting, theater and 4-H give children many opportunities to develop presentation and leadership skills. Also, encourage your child to participate in class plays, musicals and show and tell.

Like anything, the more we practice our communication skills, the better they become and the less anxious we are about managing different situations. Empower your child with the skills to communicate in a variety of situations, and watch them rise to opportunities that come their way with poise and confidence.

The amount of time children, ages zero to eight, spend with screen devices has tripled in the past three years to a little over two hours a day. ¹ 

Tweens, ages eight to 12, spend an average of five hours a day using screen media. Watching online videos is the most popular activity in this age group. ² 

Teens, ages 13 to 18, use screen media an average of seven and half hours a day not including for school or homework. ³

Freelance journalist, Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two boys. She is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.


 ¹ 2017 The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids 0-8 

 ² 2019 Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens

 ³ 2019 Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens

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