This month, we’re sharing an excerpt from our parent and educator handbook, From the Inside Out. Want to learn more? Purchase your copy of the handbook here: https://hallways.org/from-inside-out-handbook/.
Research shows that relationships based in positivity and positive practices play an essential role in growing a young person’s self-esteem and contribute to a number of positive outcomes, including social, academic, and professional success. Positive communication entails communicating with warmth and affection, and infusing your relationship with acceptance, positive reinforcement, and support. Finding ways to express warmth, genuineness, and acceptance toward a child, even when that child is struggling, helps you separate the person from their behaviors and build a foundation of trust and tolerance for mistakes. If a child does poorly on a test, positive communication could entail empathizing with their feelings but also reminding them how proud you are of the effort they made. If they are pursuing an interest, like a sport or theater, you can engage in positive communication simply by asking them open-ended questions about their interest and validating their excitement.
Positive communication encompasses both direct and indirect forms of communication. While delivering explicitly supportive messages to your child or student is extremely important, so is how you deliver those messages. Speaking with youth warmly and affectionately, and engaging with them in ways that are open-minded and non-judgmental, are often just as important as what you are saying. Utilizing positive communication will also help you make sure that you are not indirectly delivering a message you don’t intend; for example, positive communication about academics can help avoid giving the impression that your love for your child is contingent on their achievements While it’s important to be intentional and clear when you communicate with young people, it is equally important to imagine what they are hearing and how they are taking it in. Practicing positive communication, and being mindful about how you speak with young people, helps you to be thoughtful about what you want to accomplish in your interactions and to avoid reacting emotionally rather than intentionally.
Using positive communication can also help you avoid communication traps, the negative communication patterns that commonly arise in parent-child and other relationships. These traps often result in power struggles with children, and can include using coercive language to bargain with young people or developing a pattern of criticism and conflict. They can also include conflict that arises out of a mismatch between what you mean and what a young person hears. Using positive communication will help ensure that your message is delivered clearly, and that your children or students do not leave conversations feeling unduly criticized but instead buoyed by your support, even if they are grappling with a difficult issue. Positive communication can support you as you build relationships on mutual respect and cooperation, and it will help the young people in your life thrive.
Tips for Parents
- Communicate warmly and affectionately with your child. Use loving and supportive language, even when discussing difficult issues and/or problems, and make sure that this kind of language is consistent throughout your conversations. For example, when approaching a difficult topic, you could say, “I’m only bringing this up with you now because I care for you and want to make sure you’re safe.”
- Use positive reinforcement when interacting with your child. The value of explicitly recognizing positive behaviors cannot be understated, and you should make sure you are praising your child for good behaviors much more than you are criticizing bad ones (“I really appreciated that you took out the trash without having to be told last night. It was a big help.”). While positive reinforcement is important, praise can be overdone, so make sure that when you’re using positive reinforcement, it’s meaningful, specific, and sincere.
- Focus on your child’s strengths, and encourage their efforts to push themselves, even if they do not result in success (“I know last night’s game didn’t go the way you wanted it to, but I am so impressed with your dedication to the team and the effort you put in.”). Taking healthy risks is how young people grow, and taking these risks should be framed as a positive achievement no matter the outcome.
- Listen carefully to your children, and take time to reflect on what they are telling you so that you can respond positively and appropriately.
- Avoid communication traps by being aware of what your children are thinking and feeling when you speak with them. Choose your words carefully to ensure that you are consistently conveying messages of love and support.
Tips for Educators
- Use supportive language with your students (“I appreciate the amount of thought that went into this. I can tell that you’re really passionate about this topic.”), and create a nurturing and encouraging environment in your classroom, especially when you are working to correct negative behaviors or academic problems.
- Use positive reinforcement with your students. While it can be easy to focus on addressing behavioral problems, the value of explicitly recognizing positive behaviors cannot be underestimated. When you see students making an effort or taking academic risks, let them know that you appreciate their work! Ideally, you should be acknowledging good behaviors much more often than criticizing bad ones.
- Remember that young people’s capacity for being thoughtful and deliberate is still developing, and that there may sometimes be a mismatch between what they are trying to tell you and what they are saying. Listen carefully to your students and reflect on what you hear. Work hard to understand exactly what each student is trying to communicate (“I’m not sure I’m understanding what you mean, and it is really important to me that I hear you. Do you mind rephrasing that for me?”).
- Maintain an awareness of what your students are experiencing when you communicate with them, and choose your words carefully to ensure that your messages to students are supportive and encouraging.
For more tips and strategies, purchase your copy of the handbook today: https://hallways.org/from-inside-out-handbook/.