Improving Communication Skills

February 12, 2017

There’s no denying that children learn differently today. The world is growing and changing daily, and exponentially. But the fundamentals of communication remain the same, even if reading a typical email chain makes you question that.

Some of us tend to over-transmit, but under-communicate, because we have too-easy access to each other via email, text, and social media. Access, of course, doesn’t guarantee communication.

How, then, do we produce strong, concise communicators? We suggest returning to the basics, exposing kids to them…then letting them adapt their fundamental skills to today’s reality.

Here’s one simple way to help improve a child’s communication skills: have them send handwritten letters to a pen pal. There’s nothing revolutionary in that, just a lot of learning opportunity, and proficiency-building practice. Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, printing or cursive development, and so on.

The goal is to teach the importance and value of clear, plainspoken, written communication.

Try this simple exercise:

Once a pen pal is identified, choose a topic for the child to discuss via email, and a second topic to discuss using traditional “snail mail.” Don’t impose any time limit for writing that may pressure the child.

As you might imagine, the time spent writing email communication will tend to be brief, and decrease, while the frequency may increase. The time spent writing an old fashioned letter, though, will stay about the same. That’s because paper, being a defined physical object, isn’t perceived as an endless digital scroll. And frequency is dictated by circumstances beyond the child’s control. The letter has to be delivered; then the reply takes time to arrive. So letters, by their nature, come with more of an imperative to communicate effectively. An awaited reply that finally arrives, only to disappoint because the writer carelessly neglected to answer questions or address topics raised is unfulfilling, ineffective communication. It does teach a valuable lesson, though.

Of course, this exercise isn’t about which method is best; the world has decided that and made the move. What it does is vividly teach that carefully thinking about and crafting your message, regardless of the delivery method, will increase the quality of the response you receive, save time, and lead to better understanding. After all, communication is about more than sending. It’s about thinking, understanding the person you’re talking to, and making yourself understood.