Last week I shared some of the sites I use to help control media and electronic use in our household. This week I would like to continue along the same theme and share the recent conversation I had with Christa Melnyk Hines, author of the recently released Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.
Christa is a family communications expert and I was curious to find out her thoughts on how to balance social media/gaming/smart phones with developing the social skills that children need to become confident communicators.
Technology has greatly increased the capacity for children with hearing loss to communicate. My son is a much better communicator when he uses FaceTime to talk to his cousins, instead of trying to have a conversation over the phone. But, it can sometimes be too easy to rely on technology and forget about the skills that our children need to use in real life.
Christa, I really enjoyed reading your book. Not only does it address the online etiquette and skills that are needed today, but it also talks about everyday skills that we often take for granted. What do you think are some of the basic social skills that every child needs to learn?
Some of the most basic social skills kids need to learn are how to make friends, manage conflict and recognize nonverbal cues.
At least 60 percent of our communication is nonverbal. By learning to recognize non-verbals, like facial expressions and gestures, we acquire a deeper understanding of what is being said. We grow into more empathetic communicators.
In turn, we can learn to manage our own body language like eye contact, which is key to listening and showing interest in others.
I have already mentioned that developing social skills can be difficult for children with hearing loss. What are some suggestions that you might have for helping kids practice their social skills?
The first thing is to talk with your child. Give your child plenty of space to listen and to learn. It’s okay to use words and language that your child might not understand completely. Home is a great place to provide your child with the rich language experiences they need. Listen attentively and ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer.
Playing conversation games around the dinner table is another way to make dialogue interesting and to teach turn-taking and listening. Kids often find “chat packs” or “what if” games fun. You could also try covering the table with butcher paper and give your kids crayons to draw while you are preparing dinner. At dinner time they can tell you about their pictures.
Host frequent small playdates in your home where you have control over the background noise. This will help your child feel more successful over time while practicing his social skills. Also consider if these are opportunities to help educate small groups of friends that they need to speak up, speak clearly and look at your child when they talk to help him understand what they are saying. Perhaps clue their parents in and they can talk to their youngsters about it. (These are valuable skills all kids need to learn anyway.)
Role play different scenarios with your child, especially if there is a specific skill you would like him to work on like using eye contact while ordering a meal at a restaurant or sharing with peers.
While you are running errands, reading books, watching family-friendly television/movies and so forth, help your child notice different social interactions. Ask questions like: Does that woman seem angry/sad/happy? Do you think that was the right way for her to handle that situation? What do you think would have been a better way to handle that?
It’s really about practice, practice, practice, and with your gentle guidance over time your child will grow into a more confident communicator.
Home is a great place to practice. It can be a safe space where children can try things out without the pressure of having to get it right the first time. But, it can be tricky to find time. How can a parent set firm guidelines so that children can have enough time away from social media and electronics to develop the communication skills they need?
First and foremost, become a healthy role model for tech-use because your kids will follow your lead. Our mobile phones are wonderful resources for us, but at the same time we shouldn’t allow a device to dictate our priorities.
Also, designate tech-free spaces in your home and elsewhere. And decide which times of the day you would like your family to unplug. Many parents choose to have their kids power down and turn in electronic devices at bedtime. Without appropriate boundaries in place and breaks from technology, kids can become more susceptible to cyberbullying, invasions of privacy and even sleep deprivation.
When it comes down to it, as the parent, you are the one in charge.
My last question for today is that it is easy to hide behind screens if you don’t want to do something that is unpleasant or difficult. Do you have any suggestions how to help children begin to take risks in order to become a better communicator?
You are so right! Avoidance is always easier than risking failure. But then we don’t grow from our experiences, which hinders the development of self-confidence.
Initiating new friendship is risky because we fear rejection. We may feel uncertain and anxious about how the other person or a new group will behave toward us.
Screen interaction is attractive because it gives us a chance to plan out what we want to say and avoid mistakes that can occur in communication. Striking a healthy balance between online and offline communication is key.
My suggestion is to keep working on finding different social entry points where your child can connect with others.
Maybe that connection occurs over a shared interest. Kids develop stronger social skills through involvement in extracurricular activities like volunteer work, team sports, performance, scouts, etc.
Host play dates at your home for younger kids and encourage your elementary-aged kids to invite friends over to play–but limit video gaming. Encourage interactive play whether that’s playing kickball in the backyard, building forts, or playing dolls, Legos and board games. This one-on-one interaction can really help your child build some stronger connections.
Also, summer camp can also be an incredible social skills growth opportunity for kids since many camps don’t allow electronics. Many kids come home from camp feeling more independent and self-confident.
Christa, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about the online and offline social skills that are important in becoming a confident communicator. I wish you continued success with your book and look forward to talking with you again soon!
For more of Christa’s thoughts on building communication skills in your child, visit her at www.christamelnykhines.com.
(Note: The NYT ran a great piece a couple of weeks ago about managing media in families. Check it out here)