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What is Communication?

Communication is the exchange of ideas, thoughts, emotions, knowledge and information. The important word in the definition is “exchange”. Communication is a two-way process of sending and receiving ideas, thoughts, emotions, knowledge, and information.

One of the ways kids learn from us is watching us behave and then copying our behavior. By sharpening and then modeling our effective communication skills, the children in our care will learn to more effectively communicate at home, in school, and in the community.

Sending your Message

When you want to have another person understand your thoughts, ideas, information, feelings, and wants, you “send that person your message”. Your aim is to get the information across to the other person; therefore you want to send your message as clearly and completely as possible.

Effective Sender Skills

Relationship: The closer the relationship is between you and the person you are addressing, the more likely your message will get through and be understood by the person. When the other person “feels” close to you or considers you to be friendly, that person will usually find it easier to listen to you and understand your message.

Ineffective Sender Skills

Listening or Understanding the Other Person's Message

Remember the definition of communication is "the exchange of ideas, thoughts, emotions, knowledge, and information.” The operant word is "exchange". We communicate with other people when we give and talk, speak and listen, say and hear. Listening is a demanding skill that requires thought and practice. It does not seem to come naturally to human beings.

Kids say many things to Foster Parents. Sometimes it's just "babble" - talking for talking sake. Sometimes the message is hidden. This may occur when the child has problems, worries, fears, doubts, disappointments, and uncertainties. They want someone to listen and understand them-not necessarily to give them answers.

There are Three Reasons Why Kids Send "Veiled" Messages

  1. Kids don't always know how to put their emotions, thoughts, ideas, or concerns into the "right" words. They know they are experiencing something, but they aren't sure of the words to use.
  2. Kids may be afraid to face the "real" message, so they put out a "feeler"-a kind of signal for you to listen. The youth may be afraid that you will judge or criticize. Or they just may be afraid to talk about their concern, thinking others may think they are dumb or stupid.
  3. Youth, like most adults, think and communicate in a process of "peeling" off layers, similar to an onion. There is an outer layer, then one underneath, and so on. You keep peeling off layers till you get to the core. Most youth have a core they want you to understand, but they don't know exactly how to go about having you grasp what they are experiencing. They may be dealing with something new in their lives, which could be very confusing and they may need help putting that new core into words.

Signals from Youth for You to Listen

When you hear these types of expressions from youth, it is a signal for you to tune into them and listen.

When one listens to another person, one closes the mouth, opens the ears and focuses the mind on what the youth is trying to get across to you. The listener isn't put off by words. The good listener gets past the heated or emotional words and hears the veiled message the youth is sending.

Most people don't like to listen, especially when the speaking person is in pain or when the speaker is criticizing or blaming the listener. Listening is not easy - one must work at being good at it. However, the rewards are great when you consider what information you learn from listening to the youth, the growth and strengthening of the relationship, and what you teach the youth by to listen.

Summarize and add the emotion that you identify in the other's message. A good listening technique is to paraphrase/summarize the other's message and add the emotion you hear in the other's message to your response.

Clarification. The listener will "assist" the speaker to work through the layers of thoughts, ideas, experiences, and emotions, which surround the "core" concern. From time to time, the listener will want to intervene and ask questions for clarification. There are two clarification skills that may be helpful to foster parents:

The clarification statement-which is nothing more than a statement which says, "I'm not sure what you mean." "I'm not getting it." "I'm confused."

Clarifying Questions which are most commonly "what" and "how" questions. "Why" is not a good clarifying question. "Why" tends to generate defensiveness.

Drawing Out the Youth's Message

From time to time the listener will encourage or "draw out" the sender's message. You might consider these techniques as "encouragers" or "tell me more" approaches. These skills will communicate your interest in understanding the sender's message and encourage the sender to offer you more information.

Roadblocks that will Obstruct or End the Sender's Message

Blaming - The speaker senses a message of disapproval and responsibility for being at fault.

Criticism - The act of passing judgment; censure or faultfinding

Ordering, Commanding or Forcing the Sender to Act According to the Listener's Will - No one likes to be controlled or forced to act in a certain way. If the speaker senses that the listener is forcing, intimidating, or threatening, the conversation will probably end or deteriorate into a struggle for power.

Interrupting - Breaking into the sender's conversation is not only impolite, but it frequently sends the message that “I am not really interested in what you have to say: I am more interested in my own thoughts, ideas, information, and feelings.” This attitude will close down the interest in talking to you, which the sender had.

Aggressive Questioning - Questions that are characterized by unprovoked offensives, attacks, invasions or the like are aggressive questions that will likely end a conversation. “Why” can be an aggressive question. For example; “Why did you do that?” “Why can't you behave?”

Remember: Good communication is the exchange of information between people. You need to be able to effectively send your message to others AND be a good listener!