By: Donna Burtis, M.S.W., R.S.W.

Published On: February 11, 2015

A definition of communication is “…how people convey information, make meaning with one another, and respond internally and externally.” THE SATIR MODEL, V. Satir, J.Banmen, J. Gerber, M. Gomori

We communicate verbally, using words, and nonverbally, using body language. Nonverbal communication can consist of tone of voice, silence, body posture, facial expressions, breathing. Also, nonverbal cues can be outward physical actions like waving, pointing, slouching, touching, crossing one’s arms. We use all signals given to help us understand what someone is saying. If someone said, “What a nice day” while smiling, we would understand the meaning. However, if someone said the same thing with an angry tone of voice, we might think the person is angry and is having some difficulty.

Interpreting body language, however, can lead to misunderstandings. We can make mistakes, as we interpret from our own perspective. For example, if someone is waving frantically, he might be excited to see someone, waving for taxi or wanting help. If one is silent and still, one is, also, sending a message. However, we may not be sure of the message. We may have thoughts like: he is angry at me, he doesn’t like me or he is bored. We must clarify with the person. We cannot “not” communicate.

Neither is the message is always clear. If there is crayoning on the wall, a parent may assume that a certain one of the children is responsible – perhaps because you think she is the only one who knows where the crayons are kept or perhaps she is the one who is usually in trouble. I have, also, heard it said with a stern voice, “I am consequencing you because I love you. Is this a positive or a negative message? The child is receiving an unclear message.

Communication must be CLEAR (the verbal and nonverbal messages matching) and DIRECT (spoken directly to whom the message is intended). Thus, if one person has a message for another, it is important to give message directly to the other person. This is particularly critical, for example, in contentious situations when children are sometimes asked to give a message to the other parent. This can cause stress for the child and can add other verbal and nonverbal messages to the message.

Communication is the way we meet people, develop friendships, provide security for our children. It is important to become a good listener. Listening can be a key concept in encouraging communication. Listening can be a difficult concept as, if there is a silence in conversation, we automatically speak. However, when we want to hear from the other person, we need to feel comfortable leaving a silence.

In giving you child an opportunity to talk, use eye contact and short comments, like “uh huh”, “tell me more”, “go on”, in order to encourage communication. Acknowledge feelings by saying something like, “that must have been tough”. Repeat what was said to you or summarize, asking if this is correct. You are providing an accepting environment and an opportunity for your child. If you are uncertain about what was said, you can say “tell me again” or “help me understand”.

There can always be pitfalls in communication. That is the nature of communication. Thus, it is important to have some tools. I hope I have given you some food for thought.