There are many similarities between communicating with adults and with children/young people. In any case we need to maintain eye contact and interest, responding to what they are saying, and treating them with courtesy and respect. However, when communicating with children and young people, we also need to think about how we can maintain the relationship of carer to child and what this means in the context of an educational setting.
As teaching assistants, we must look at the situation which we are in; for example, in a classroom with children, or in the playground, or in a meeting with other professionals, or in a parents’ evening. Generally, when we communicate with people we adapt automatically our communication to the appropriate language. In fact, when we are in a meeting with other professionals, we act and speak in a formal and professional manner, whilst when speaking to a child we are more animated and less formal.
When communicating with children, we need to make sure we are listening actively to what they say, and we should be available for conversation whenever they feel the need to share something. Being clear and concise when giving instructions or explaining something to them is essential, as well as using vocabulary and grammatical structures suitable to their age and abilities. General politeness and empathy does not only show respect, but also teaches them mannerly conversation. When talking with adults we tend to use a more serious and formal way to communicate, unlike when we are communicating with children and young people. This is because we adapt our type of communication; children need more clear instruction, an age-appropriate vocabulary, a calm tone, and body language that will not send mixed messages. Adults instead, are more on the same wave length as each other. However, clear and concise language patterns require to be always used while communicating with children and adults. Also, protecting the individual rights and dignity of children, young people and older individuals must be highly warranted while communicating.
Therefore, the main differences between communicating with a child, young person or adult is our tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, gestures and the vocabulary we use. We need to adapt these depending on the age, needs or ability of the person we are speaking too. Children have many ways of communicating. They can express themselves through play, drawings, modelling, music, singing, dancing and writing. If we are communicating with a small child we may do this by playing with toys or reading a story, using silly voices. When communicating with a young person instead, we would need to adapt our tone of voice and the phrases we use, as young adults surely have a more varied vocabulary. In fact, communication with teenagers is different from communicating with younger children and can cause conflict and stress; the most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. We can give to young people more complex instructions and they can also appreciate jokes and word play. We need to listen and respect their ideas and keep up with their interests. For example, we can discuss past events allowing them to express their feelings and emotions. With regards to communicating with an adult, this would be done differently as we would normally do this by having a conversation face to face or by telephone, going out to a social event, or by texting, or maybe by sending an email. As said previously, we also need to consider the differences when communicating with anyone from a different culture or social background.
Below is a summary of the main characteristics and differences between communicating with adults and communicating with children and young people.
Communicating with adults:
– Use a language that will be understood;
– Maintain professionalism and support comprehension;
– Make eye contact and use other non-verbal skills if needed;
– Respect other ideas even if we are not sure about them;
– Use written forms of communication when needed, like email, letter, notices, or text;
– Avoid assumptions;
– Summarise and confirm the key points to ensure understanding;
– Resolve areas of poor communication by discussing them;
– Comply with polices for confidentiality, sharing information and data protection.
Communicating with children and young people:
– Speak clearly and only give as much information as is needed;
– Use a vocabulary appropriate to their ages, needs, abilities: verbal expressions must be at the right level for the children;
– Actively listen and positively respond;
– Ask and answer questions to prompt responses and check understanding;
– Adapt communication to their language and abilities;
– Focus on what the child says;
– Use not only verbal but also non-verbal communication skills, like smile, nodding, eye contact etc.;
– Praise and encourage them to keep the conversation going;
– Give support while communicating with children;
– Never interrupt them whilst they are speaking;
– Never dismiss what children say because it lowers their self-esteem;
– Never laugh at what children say;
– Never hurry children when they are speaking.
In conclusion, the communication with adults (professionals and parents) would be generally more formal and characterised by more complex language, discussion, and negotiation. With younger children, there is a much bigger emphasis placed on body language, facial expressions, and the use of more simple language.
However, it is important to maintain a high level of professionalism when communicating with both adults and children. It is vital to maintain a high level of respect when communicating with adults and children/young people as this helps to build trust and foster positive relationships. The use of verbal as well as non-verbal skills through effective body language assists in empathising concepts with the adult population and enhance their participation in the communication process. When communicating with other adults who are not colleagues in the school, e.g. parents and carers, is not advisable to use a technical language with people who are not experts in this area. Also, a teaching assistant must be careful not to try and answer questions that are beyond their knowledge and expertise. In these cases, the parents’ questions should be referred to the class teacher or a teacher specialised in the field. Respecting other people’s thoughts and ideas while establishing the confidentiality of shared information, facilitates the enhancement of trust and confidence in communicating with adults.