Kids are incredible and they have so much to teach us about communication. Kids love to communicate. They so are eager to openly express their feelings, ideas, needs, and viewpoints—whether it be positive, negative, or anywhere in between.
Kids are beautiful in the way that they don’t have a filter and you never have to guess what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and openly share whatever is on their mind. At least in the beginning.
At some point, however, conditioning sets in and they learn that it’s not OK to express themselves freely. They are taught that if they don’t have anything nice to say, they shouldn’t say anything at all. They become trained to bury their emotions—positive and negative—and to refrain from talking about them or acting them out. Children are sponges and adapt readily to what family, friends, and society believe are the appropriate rules of conduct. They absorb everything you say and do, and begin to replicate your behaviors before they even learn to speak.
It’s no wonder, then, that children grow up behaving in the same ways that their parents do. They struggle with emotional expression, fitting in, and feeling heard. They carry forward the limiting beliefs of previous generations as well as adopting their own along the way, and they fight every day to find their voice, just like you and I have had to do.
Why Learn Conscious Communication?
There are so many opportunities for those who are waking up to explore concepts like conscious communication in today’s world. Mindfulness is on the rise and with it comes the requisite for you to look at how you are choosing to show up in your life:
- How are you dealing with stress?
- How do you treat others?
- How do you take care of yourself spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically?
There is no better time than now to set your children up with the skills, tools, and techniques needed for becoming conscious, compassionate, and emotionally intelligent individuals. You are in a unique position to inspire them because kids love spending time with adults. Your kids will look up to you and watch your every move. They will silently observe your body language and your facial expressions as much as they will pay close attention to your behavior. How you show up teaches them how to show up.
Whenever children experience emotional turbulence, it’s important they be equipped with the tools to navigate their experience. Teaching them how to be emotionally intelligent will go a long way in how well they are able to communicate mindfully, directly, and intentionally. Here are eight tips for teaching your kids how to communicate consciously.
Teach Them the Art of Patient Listening
Children are naturally excitable, curious, and eager to engage so it’s important to teach them how to listen attentively when another person is speaking. It’s just as important to listen as it is to speak when practicing conscious communication.
Start by explaining that the other person’s perspective or feelings are as valid as their own, and that they deserve an opportunity to feel heard. If your child struggles with listening patiently, have them sit on their hands and take slow deep breaths while maintaining eye contact with whomever is speaking. Connecting to their breath will help to ground them.
Teach Them How to Calmly Respond to Challenging Circumstances
Whenever your child experiences emotionally challenging events, teach them to identify what happened—just the facts—without creating a story around who was involved, how things unfolded, or any level of melodrama. Have them pretend that they are an alien reporter from another universe just observing the facts of what happened in the moment to cause them discomfort. This will help to lessen the emotional charge they are feeling.
Teach Them How to Identify Their Emotions
Children must have a strong foundation for recognizing what emotions they are feeling in any given circumstance, and they need to know it is OK to feel their emotions. Kids need to understand that having emotions is healthy and not something to be ashamed of. The only time emotions are unhealthy is when they are buried.
Teach your child to assign a label for their emotion in the moment (anger, sadness, fear, hurt, guilt, shame, frustration, resentment, etc.) and to practice affirming that it is OK—and healthy—to feel their emotions.
Teach Them to Express What They Need (Set and Enforce Boundaries)
A big part of open communication is to get clear on what you need. It’s easy to assume that other people should just “know” what we need. However, it’s safe to assume that most of us—even as adults—rarely take the time to sit and contemplate what we need. Therefore, we must teach our children to identify what they need during a stressful time before we can expect them to communicate it to someone else.
An example might be when a child feels excluded by their friends in school whenever the popular kids come around. When given time to consider what happened (just the facts) and how they are feeling (angry, sad, lonely, etc.), they may have the realization that what they need is to feel included, like they are a part of the group and that they matter.
Teach Them to Speak Truthfully About Their Feelings
Now that you’ve taught your child how to identify what happened, to label their emotions, and to gain clarity around what they need, you must now help them to feel safe in speaking truthfully about their feelings. When confronted with a challenging situation or difficult interaction, kids will usually respond in one of two ways: they will either lash out physically (hitting, kicking, or pushing) or psychologically (verbally or using body language and facial expressions), or they will withdraw (giving the silent treatment).
Neither of these expressions enables them to communicate in a way that increases the likelihood of having their needs met. Practice teaching them how to speak truthfully about their feelings, and what they are needing in terms of support.
For example, sit with them at the dinner table and ask them to tell you about any challenges they had that day. Then, going through these steps, slowly begin to implement them into casual conversation.
Teach Them How to Ask for Clarification
When a child doesn’t understand something, it’s important that they feel comfortable asking questions to help them fill in the blanks. Having the appropriate data is critical in any conscious communication.
When a child is told “because I said so” it doesn’t encourage a culture of understanding. Children have a need to grasp the reasoning behind things as this is how they learn—and remember—they model our behavior. What we do, they do! When they can feel safe in asking questions of another person, they are more apt to explain their choices and their perspectives to others, which fosters a level of connection and a desire to find resolution.
Teach Them How to Be Compassionate Toward Others
Kids tend to take out their emotions on other kids. Any of us can undoubtedly recall a time in our own childhood when another kid was super mean to us and if it never happened to us, we can recall a time when we saw it happen to someone else.
Children need to learn to be kind and compassionate toward others if they are ever going to adopt the practice of conscious communication. Have them practice being compassionate by complimenting others, and by practicing “how would I feel if I were in that person’s shoes?” Encourage them to speak kindly to others and to be gentle when they need to deliver a communication that might be difficult for someone to hear.
Teach Them How to “STOP”
Kids love acronyms and this is an easy one for them to remember. STOP goes like this:
- S = Stop
- T = Take a deep breath
- O = Observe your emotions and your environment
- P = Proceed mindfully
Teach your child the STOP acronym to halt them in their steps while in the heat of the moment, and then have them work the appropriate steps above so that they can design and deliver their conscious communication.
At the end of the day, the more fun you can make this, the higher likelihood that you will be successful in teaching your child to be an emotionally-intelligent, compassionate, and confident communicator. Our children of today hold the keys to the future of our planet. One of the most important gifts of parenting or mentoring children is to impart the wisdom of our own learnings and empower them to become the future leaders of tomorrow.
Kids aren’t always as excited as we are about mindfulness practices, like meditation and yoga. But children have a lot to gain from learning how to cultivate mindfulness on their own. Click here to get our free 8-week mindfulness for kids program.