4 Steps to Teach Children Healthy Communication Skills

by denny hagel on March 17, 2013

Graphic Path to success4 Steps to Teach Children Healthy Communication Skills

The path to success in any relationship is paved with healthy communication skills. Because communication is a learned skill, sadly, many people are lacking in this area. Past generations of parents paid little or no attention to teaching their children the art of communication.

Fortunately many of today’s parents are aware of the importance of communicating in a healthy way; but still many are not clear how to begin teaching these skills to their children. And if they didn’t receive good communicating skills as children they are at the same time trying to integrate these skills themselves. But the wonderful news is that learning to communicate well can be learned by anyone at any time!

4 Steps to Healthy Communication:

1.   In order to communicate successfully we must first be able to clearly identify our thoughts and feelings. A very simple way to do this is to make a list of emotions and their definitions. For younger children I suggest helping them draw pictures rather than writing out definitions.

A suggested list of emotions:

  • Happy.
  • Sad.
  • Frustrated.
  • Afraid.
  • Confused.
  • Excited.

These are only a few to get you started…your list should be as long as you want to make it! And can be added to as your child’s vocabulary increases.

2.   Next we must learn to translate our thoughts and feelings into words. Now that you have a list of emotions and their definitions, go over them with your child. The goal is to be sure THEY understand the meaning of each emotion. You will want to be very specific with this step to help them learn the true meanings.

For instance, it can be very easy to use feeling ‘sad’ with many other negative emotions…if one is frustrated or confused they could simply just use ‘sad’ to convey their feelings. But to communicate clearly a more in depth and specific language is helpful. Another great way to help children identify the correct word to fit their emotion is to help them recall personal examples of each one.  

3.   Once your child has a clear understanding of the most common human emotions they are ready to learn to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that the other person will be open to hearing them. I refer to this as ‘couching’. The way in which you ‘couch’ your thoughts, feelings and opinions will greatly determine how well they are received.

It is important to teach children that the first rule of thumb is to always remember that our thoughts, feelings and ideas belong to us…they are OUR thoughts and feelings and opinions. And that does not make them a fact for anyone else. When expressing feelings, thoughts and ideas the word ‘you’ should not be used.

For example, rather than saying ‘you’ hurt my feelings and made me feel ‘sad’, you would say ‘I’ felt sad when you said…. In other words we must help our children understand that their feelings, thoughts and ideas are theirs to own. And they cannot and should not be projected onto anyone else.

When you communicate your feelings, thoughts and ideas from a place of ownership you remove the risk of making the one being spoken to from feeling attacked.

Healthy communication is the foundation of relating in a way that helps others understand us.  When we approach someone in an accusatory manner… “You” said or did or whatever the case may be, you have immediately created a situation where the other person will respond defensively.

4.   And finally we must impress upon children the need to be willing and open to listening to the other person carefully giving them their full attention. The art of listening is a skill in itself that needs to be learned and developed, however, in children the most important step is to teach them to always remember to give the other person the same respect and attention they want to receive when they are speaking.

Learning to communicate in a healthy way is a process that is learned and perfected over time according their age and level of maturity. Using these 4 basic steps will lay a solid foundation to build from.

When we can clearly communicate to one another, respecting each other’s feelings, thoughts and opinions we can prevent and avoid unnecessary conflicts while building strong mutually respectful relationships.

I would love to hear your thoughts…please leave a comment below!


Denny Hagel is a child advocate and parenting coach, devoting over 25 years to the success and well being of all children. She is the published author of over 150 articles on parenting, many of which have attracted international attention in over 24 countries.

Denny was blessed with forward thinking parents who raised her with an understanding of her value as an individual, her innate power to choose by way of her thoughts, ideas, opinions and beliefs, thus, instilling in her a strong sense of personal responsibility for what happens in our lives

She is the founder of Awakened Parenting LLC, a company dedicated to helping parents release parenting paradigms of the past and consciously choose to raise their children to approach life with a positive mindset and strong sense of self. It is Denny’s passion to combine what she learned through her formal education in early childhood education and psychology and what her parents instilled in her and pass this on to all parents.

Denny has created the discussion group "Awakened Parenting Discussion Forum" on Face Book which now has nearly 600 members.  She does on line coaching with parents and teachers who consult her on a regular basis. Denny collaborates with counselors, authors, coaches and others working in the parent coaching field. Denny Hagel is the author of the newly published "The Missing Secret to Parenting", "The C.P.R. Program for Parents & Teens: Conflict Prevention/Resolution Formula", "Mini-Me Syndrome" and two free e-booklets Parenting Using the Law of Attraction and Becoming an Awakened Parent".

  • http://twitter.com/thekidscoach Naomi Richards

    Denny I think you are right in saying we are getting better at this as there is so much work going on in schools to do with E.I and naming feelings etc. It is important as children need to recognise their own feelings and those of others too so they can help/understand.

  • Dawn Lanier

    Excellent points Denny! I quite agree that the path to success IS paved with healthy communication skills. Teaching children how to do this effectively also makes them good critical thinkers, which is a trait shared by all successful people.

  • Meire Weishaupt

    I feel that when we can not express our thoughts and feelings to the kid, it is more difficult to teach them to be open and listening to us. Well said Denny, your post shows the exactly sequence that our actions should follow! Thank you!

  • Pat Moon

    This is something I am still working on and hopefully I’m getting better at it. Being able to communicate our own thoughts, feelings, and ideas increases our ability to build positive relationships with those around us. Thanks for sharing this, Denny.

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Excellent post, Denny. Communication is key. Being open and communication with our children shows them the path to express themselves. It’s the way to go to build a strong relationship. Thanks for always sharing such helpful tips and info! God bless!

  • http://www.facebook.com/meryl.hershey.beck Meryl Hershey Beck

    Teaching children to communicate their feelings with words can go a long way in fostering a positive self esteem an aids the child in being able to express themselves as they get older. Great information!

  • Robin Pisciotta

    Fabulous tips! It’s so great to see parents putting so much effort into raising children correctly. Have you ever read “the 5 Love Languages”? It’s a great book and your posts remind me a lot about that book :)

  • http://twitter.com/danisdecadent Daniele Holmberg

    This is a great article for communication skills that I think some adults need to read as well. If we can get our children on a positive communication track, I think future relationships will be healthier all the way around and divorce rates will drop. :)

  • http://twitter.com/GaryHyman Gary Hyman

    You’re amazing Denny. I always learn something new from every time I read your posts. I especially loved that you mentioned “…our thoughts, feelings and ideas belong to us…they are OUR thoughts and feelings and opinions. And that does not make them a fact for anyone else.”. So true and well said. A perfect way not to project feelings onto another person – both child and parent. Thanks for sharing.

  • Delia

    Timely post for me! I’ll have to repeat to myself that sentence about communicating from a place of ownership. It’s what I am asking my kids to do but need to make sure I “walk my talk”. Thanks, Denny!

  • http://twitter.com/kimgarst Kim Garst ツ

    Learn something of value every time I drop in, Denny! Today’s take away for me was “It is important to teach children that the first rule of thumb is to always remember that our thoughts, feelings and ideas belong to us…they areOUR thoughts and feelings and opinions. And that does not make them a fact for anyone else.” Love this!

  • http://twitter.com/NormaDoiron Norma Doiron ´*•჻.

    Great article Denny! These skills are not just for kids but for us as well. :)

  • Shari

    This reminds me of the need to help kids parse out feelings from thoughts, since it’s so easy (for adults and kids alike) to confuse the two. Good read, Denny, as always!

  • Carele Belanger

    Fantastic Denny! You know exactly how to communicate with children and you are a gift!

  • http://www.facebook.com/franniego Frances García O’Brien

    Sheesh! Lots of adults can learn from this post! I specially loved when you said that our feelings are our own, and they shouldn’t be projected to others, and the rephrasing of “You hurt my feelings by…” to “I felt sad whe you said…”.
    That was great!

  • http://twitter.com/DrMommy DrDaisyS

    Love, love, your work but you already knew that 😉 I’m so glad I came across this post because believe it or not I’m experiencing issues with one of my children and communication is something that I have always stressed in our household. More importantly owning up to their feelings, thanks so much for the validation that what I’m doing is the right thing:) Hugs!

  • Forrest Graves

    Communication is so vital! This is a great post and a topic worth expanding upon!

  • http://twitter.com/suegraber Sue Graber

    Great article Denny! Good communication in any relationship is important. I liked what you said about teaching our children to really listen with respect for the other person; amazing how this could change relationships and ultimately our world!

  • http://twitter.com/TheChefKatrina Chef Katrina

    Communication is sooo important. Not having any kids yet… I still know the importance of communication. Thank you!

  • http://assistsocialmedia.com/ Pauline Magnusson

    And step 5 – modeling this in how we communicate with others, no matter their age. :) Love your article, Denny!

  • Vicky

    Great article Denny. I especially liked your example #3. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/EdmundSLee Edmund Lee

    Love the tips Denny. Communication and owning of one’s emotion rather than projecting it to anyone else are really important for a harmonious relationship. Choice of words is the key! =)

  • Lorii Abela

    Excellent advise
    Denny, building a healthy communication in the family is a must and your
    strategies are a good start. Thanks for sharing.

  • Pingback: How Parents Can Avoid the Common Disconnect in Their Relationship With Their Child()

  • Muskan ruchandani

    Thank you Denny for your valuable article.I am sure to execute these ideas and hope they would help me to strengthen my relationship with my son

  • Abel Chukwu

    This is amazing and eye opener, am child teacher this has added to my information to child parenting. It is a useful information for every parent or intending parents

  • lee

    Excellent article! Would you explain your use of the word ‘couching’ … I’m just not sure what you mean. Would really appreciate it.

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