When I invited you to join me this summer and make our homes these Grand Central Stations of learning and growing, I threw out a few things I’d like to think about and intentionally sprinkle into all the fun activities planned for this summer (and beyond!). It sounded a bit like what one might find on a job listing:
Effective communication skills, teamwork, leadership, analytical ability, project management skills, ability to multitask, self-motivation.
That’s because they are the stuff of resumes. Does it really start in these preschool years? Yes! Launching these rocket babies into their futures, isn’t so different from a real rocket launch. Years of hard work, trial and error, triumphs and setbacks, fun and exciting times, and tedious struggles all culminate in yet another beginning at ignition and lift off.
What we pour in now, will go so much farther than we can ever know. Not that we should stress about incorporating intensive “lessons” so our babies will be ready to succeed at high-level jobs and competitive Ivy League schools, but we can facilitate some natural skill-building. I’ll bet you already are!
So let’s jump in. We want to raise effective communicators.
It’s funny and lofty to picture this poised-but-nervous young man interviewing before an employer looking for effective communication skills when I rewind and think of my dear sweet 4-year-old Eddie, trying to tell his dad about what he did today. He leaves out important details which are vital to understanding the context of the story. Sometimes he loses his train of thought and gazes off into space for a minute. Sometimes he repeats the same word several times while he gathers his thoughts for the next phrase. Often it’s painfully long and drawn out, or just as often he can’t even remember anything we did to report to Dad! All this is perfectly normal and age appropriate.
Here’s the thing. He’s doing it. Whether or not he knows it, he’s preparing for those interviews down the road right now at the dinner table through family conversation.
Building effective communicators means making space for them to practice. It’s often not convenient and downright boring or even annoying, but the value is unmistakable. Let them talk. Don’t interrupt or finish their thoughts for them (all the time, that is. Do what you got to do to move things along when necessary!). Ask questions. Engage. Look them in the eye. Practice makes perfect.
How about sibling interaction? It’s absolutely rife with opportunity to practice effective communication. Right now with Xander only knowing a few words, most of them indecipherable even to me sometimes, I constantly have to remind Eddie to direct his complaint/request to his brother, not to me.
He messed up your LEGO creation? Did you tell him that?
Tell him he was playing too rough and you didn’t like that.
He’s crying because he’s hurt. Even if you didn’t mean to hurt him, still tell him you’re sorry and ask him if he’s okay.
If you want him to come play with you, ask him! Get excited and show him what you want to play with.
This is where it’s at! So many valuable skills tested out right in our everyday interactions! Like those annoying meltdowns, perfect place to teach communication skills. Even Xanderman at his young age is dying to let me know why he’s upset, rubbing the spot he bumped and pointing to the offending fill-in-the-blank (he bonks into everything!) or grunting at the desired snacks while kicking is feet and wailing about the undesired snack he was offered. As soon as there are words, they should be encouraged to put those words to work describing their experiences and feelings.
Lastly, an easy way to boost communication skills: reading. We can expose our kids to new vocabulary, different sentence structures, and fresh ideas through the pages of a book. Someone else did the work, just read the words on the page. Insert a question here or there to see if they’re understanding, or just wait, pretty sure they’ll ask a question or two or twenty. Join a summer reading program at your local library! Venture often into those lovely air-conditioned halls on hot days and check out a whole stack of books! Cuddle up with your freshly bathed and jammied buddies as the late twilight lingers this summer and read a chapter book aloud.
Our kids won’t be eloquent, articulate, and powerful communicators tomorrow. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Have realistic expectations, but high goals, and keep baby stepping along. Four simple ways: listen to their stories, encourage interaction with siblings and friends, practice putting words to experiences and feelings, and read read read.