By Volunteer Sneha Pai, FHI Bangalore
We all wish to be seen, heard, and understood! To have our thoughts and feelings acknowledged. And share our glorious ideas with the world.
We often see younger children speak their curious minds out and ask questions without much hesitation. But as they grow, sometimes, some of them slowly retreat into their shells, silence a lot of the voices in their heads, and avoid any conversations altogether. One can only wonder what triggers this change. Could it be that they find it hard to articulate their thoughts? Are unable to find the right medium to express themselves? Or is it that they just suffer from low self-esteem.
Communication is a crucial life skill and one ought to start cultivating it early. It is just a combination of expressing oneself vocally, visually, non-verbally, or in written form. And it is all about communicating effectively and confidently. Mostly because, a good communicator finds it fairly easier to express and explain, and enjoys greater comfort in building stronger relationships. All these qualities successively nurture a child’s listening skills, teach them empathy, and aid in interpreting cues from both verbal and non-verbal mediums all of which are subsets of good communication skills.
Raising confident talkers and keen listeners
Speak, speak with them as much and as often as possible!
When interacting with children, it is a good idea to persistently encourage them to share by asking them a lot of questions. Ask them questions – this urges them to talk and gives them a sense of being heard and cared for. More importantly, while conversing with children, limit any distractions, ask open-ended questions, and expand areas of conversations to include diverse topics. Doing so instills in them the confidence to connect and share.
Alongside, guide the child on how to speak in different situations. This includes appropriate usage of greetings, polite words, gestures, the importance of taking sufficient pauses, critical thinking and questioning, and introspecting.
While emphasizing building skills to speak clearly and confidently, stress the importance of active listening too. Active listening entails giving thorough attention to the speaker and interacting with them keenly rather than just passively hearing them out. This also includes maintaining eye contact, portraying appropriate body language, avoiding interruptions, offering inputs wherever required, and most importantly non-judgmental listening.
As a Fly Higher Volunteer, what can I do?
As volunteers who get plenty of opportunities to interact with children and conduct activity-based learning programs, to stimulate confident speech, we must enwrap Communication as a key takeaway in most of our activities.
To begin with, maybe instead of having a volunteer to explain the theme and activities to the children, we can appoint some children from the school itself to take the initiative (under our supervision of course) and explain the activities to the rest of the group. This alternate would serve as a great learning platform for the children to work on their active listening and explaining skills.
While interacting with them individually during the activities, we must strive to create an environment in which they feel self-assured to express with us any thoughts and questions that cross their minds. I remember during one of the FHI events, a little girl walking up to me and saying “Akka, I have one silly question regarding this task, but don’t laugh at me after I ask you.” Her question then had only made me smile wider. And now when I recall it, I feel good that I had made her feel comfortable to unmindfully share her free thoughts with me without any fear of being judged.
Some of us who have got a wonderful chance to mentor a child can encourage our mentees to share with us (just like they would with their family member or friend) about how their day or week had been or narrate a funny/happy incident that happened to them in their recent past. To further promote engaging conversations, we could also share something that happened to us and ask them what they would have done if they were in our situation.
Conduct activities that are both fun and educational. Who would have thought that something as simple as the blindfold game which we enjoyed as kids in addition to promising giggles also boosts communication skills? This activity is a great way to improve the instructional skills, concentration, and comprehension skills, and bringing out a creative side. Role-play games are extremely entertaining and help young children to improvise their language, vocabulary, body language, and self-esteem. Present them with situations or roles to enact, ask questions about them, and they will think of different ways to express themselves. Debates encourage children to present their opinions in a wider forum with confidence, propose and accept counter-arguments, and pass fair judgment.
Reading and journaling are some fulfilling hobbies that young children could adopt to create and share content. Interested volunteers can pair up with a kid as a reading buddy and together they can read a book and share their thoughts about it. We can also introduce the idea of journaling and encourage the kids to maintain one for themselves to briefly record any passing thoughts or even the happenings of the day.
The ability to express and listen well opens doors to many amazing opportunities out there. It simplifies resolving conflicts, builds trust, and promotes understanding and healthy relationships. And it is worth devoting the effort and time to developing and imparting this essential life skill. For how else will we all share our wonderful stories with the world?