‘Communication is fundamental to development’ (Crow et al, 2008, p. 11). This essay will therefore critically discuss how certain factors can affect communication and how practitioners may be able to overcome these barriers in their daily practice. It will begin with a definition of communication, and then state some of the different ways we communicate on a daily basis. It will move on to explain the importance of these interactions, and illuminate how cultural, social, environmental and emotional factors can create barriers and affect communication with children.
Finally, it will consider ways practitioners can become better at communicating with the children they work with. The word ‘communication’ basically means ‘to share’ and its desired outcome is understanding. It is a part of our basic drive to form relationships and is based on ‘theoretical knowledge, cultural understanding and experience’ (Crow et al, 2008, p. 7). It involves an ‘interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information’ (www. efinitions. net/definition/communication) which are transmitted through body language, ‘touch, listening, tone of voice, gesture, playing, observing, reassuring, explaining […] and reflecting’ (Crow et al, 2008, p. 7). Effective communication can be beneficial to children and their welfare as it allows them to gain an identity, develop psychologically and intellectually, form and sustain social relationships, and express themselves emotionally.
However, transmission channels between adults and children are not always straightforward, resulting in barriers to their communication skills which can cause ‘confusion, discriminat[ion], alienat[ion], […] or create problems’ (Crow et al, 2008, p. 7). One such barrier is seen due to cultural differences. Through efficient communication, children learn the social rules of non-verbal communication, which includes body language and gestures.
Learning these social rules are essential in order to communicate competently, however, communication is socially constructed, and body language and gestures therefore bear different meanings between and within cultures. The differences within sub-cultures are due to ‘language acquisition, linguistic differences or [a]different mother tongue’ (Crow et al, 2008, p. 30). It is also not uncommon for children to develop their own language and signs through the use of modern technology.
This, on the one hand, is a positive aspect of communication, as developing bilingually can lead to future success, and technology allows for innovation and promotes relationships, but, not all children are as resilient as each other, and learning two languages at once, be that spoken or sign language, can confuse them a great deal. New forms of communication can also be confusing for practitioners with little experience of modern technology, which can lead to a reluctance to communicate and socialise, especially between generations.
Cultural differences can therefore ‘inhibit as well as influence communication’ (Crow et al,2008, p. 0) with children. Socialisation is of great importance for communication with children. Gerhardt (2004, cited in Crow et a. , 2008, p. 11) claims that it should start from birth because ‘communication between carer and baby plays a key role in the development of the infant’s brain’. These first dydadic relationships and further experiences of socialisation contribute crucially towards a child’s communication progress as they allow for empathic responses, interpretation of non-verbal communication and the understanding of emotions at a later stage.
Children who are not communicated with as babies are reported to suffer restricted brain growth and global delay (Crow et al, 2008, p. 12) due to deprivation of social contact and care. This can create a barrier to their acquisition of language. Be that as it may, not all children experience dydadic relationships, and they still learn to communicate. Hart and Risley’s (1995, cited in Crow et al, 2008, p. 12) observational study of communication amongst families suggests that the rate of language acquisition depends on socio-economic status, and that the richer the family, the richer the vocabulary.
The nature/nurture debate therefore seems at large here in that babies may have an innate predisposition to learn spoken language but that it is their experience of communication and articulation with key members in their environment that shapes / hinders their capacity to learn. A positive environment can therefore promote communication with children; however, a child’s environment can also be of hindrance in numerous other ways. Children with sensory sensitivities, especially those diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can face profound barriers which could affect their communication.
This is due to difficulty processing everyday sensory information in colourful/lively so called child friendly classrooms. These children, by not being able to cope with all the information surrounding them are likely to become anxious, stressed, cross, or even feel physical pain which can result in challenging behaviour due to their failure to communicate their emotions. There is a clear physiological explanation for this behaviour in that the ‘perception of threat causes the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenalin which block cognitive and memory processes and trigger the fight, flight or freeze reaction’ (Crow et al, 2008, p. 4).
It is not only the communication of children diagnosed with ASD that are affected by emotions though. Children who have experienced neglect, abuse or who are being bullied can all suffer in silence. Furthermore, the emotions of practitioners themselves can have an impact on communication with children. If practitioners are angry, sad or not feeling themselves, their emotions and means of logical thinking can become impaired. Practitioners therefore need to find better ways of communicating with children, especially those who face particular barriers on a daily basis.
A starting point would be to acclimatise themselves with what ‘studies of communication skills and processes have suggested […] vital to model in work with children’ (Crow et a. , 2008, p. 22), namely expressive skills, listening skills and process skills. Expressive skills are vital to convey messages to others so that they understand what is being communicated. These skills involve facial expressions and body language. Listening skills involve the total opposite to expressive skills, and requires the listener to obtain and understand the messages and information conveyed by the other person.
Both these sets of skills are important as they allow the practitioner to understand how they come across to others and to read emotions. Process skills are needed to manage communication, and they essentially help the practitioner to make appropriate choices, retrieve information/ knowledge or collect necessary tools in an orderly manner in order to interact with a child. Practitioners need to be very aware of their expressive skills and distinctive use of language, especially in light of cultural diversity.
As Valerie Daniel (The Open University, 2013 a) stated, ‘body language says a lot’, and alongside gesture, it bears distinct meanings between cultures. Eye contact is one significant area of concern. It is one of the most forthright modes of communication, and where and how you look at someone can alter the interaction. Staring at someone you are communicating with can cause that person to feel uneasy, yet it is important to look at him/her in order to show that you are paying attention.
Some cultures however discourage eye contact all together, and claim it is a form of rudeness. Particular use of language can also cause distinctions between children, for example one black pupil commented that ‘around the school when it’s white boys it’s a group but when it’s black boys it’s a gang and I think it’s wrong’(London Department Agency, 2004 cited in Crow et al, 2008, p. 16). It is important therefore that practitioners take care in their use of language as what people hear influences their perception (Kay and Kempton, 1984, cited in Crow et al, 2008, p. 5), and perceptions and understanding shape’s the experience of other’s.
Practitioners therefore should use their process skills to gain cultural knowledge in order to be aware of the different implications of expressions and language before judging the actions of a child, as judgments are always based on personal experience. In doing so they can develop a rapport based on respect, and open up communication pathways so that children can ‘develop their own communication skills and […] understanding of their society and culture’ (Crow et a. , 2008, p. 1) As communication methods develop, experience indicates that practitioners need to prioritise ways of communicating their services through modern technology.
According to Turner (2003, cited in Crow et al, 2008, p. 11), one attribute children saw in an inadequate practitioner was that they are not interested. It is therefore important for practitioners to engage as much as possible with children and young people’s interests in order to get them to participate and communicate openly, rather than become introvert due to frustration over lack of understanding.
Some may argue that ‘information technology is damaging children’s ability to communicate articulately and effectively’ (Crow et al. , 2008, p. 38). Nonetheless, as Vikki Butler (The Open University, 2013, b) suggests, ‘no one wants to participate in something that’s not relevant to them’, and in today’s technological age, it is modern technology that is embedded in children’s lifeworlds. Despite lack of training opportunities and funding, practitioners need to find a way of familiarising themselves with children’s culture.
Children in turn will learn to respect practitioners for their interest and for not dismissing their innovative skills (Crow et al, 2008, p. 38), allowing communication and socialisation through the formation of collaborations. Providing opportunities for socialisation through group interactions could further develop practitioners’ communication with the children they work with as it allows the chance to ask open ended questions, which demand reactions longer than single word answers.
Practitioners must not however ask too many questions in their quest to extend learning, as children tend to become wary and refuse to open up. Practitioners must also make use of their listening skills by listening to the child’s intent as well as content, not interrupting them and reflecting empathetically on their answers in order to show the child that they are interested in what they have to say. A group interaction such as circle time is a good method to improve both children’s and practitioner’s communication.
It must be based on interests though because when ‘children are interested in what they do, [… ] you will be surprised at what they achieve’ (Valerie Daniel, The Open University, 2013, a). Ground rules of considerate communication must be set however, and these could be negotiated together as a group, but in the long run could result in helping children with their concentration, taking turns to speak, thinking before expressing their thoughts and listening to each other, essential skills of communication for all, especially those who missed out on being spoken to as babies.
Practitioners can also provide younger children the chance to communicate and socialise through play. Play allows the practitioner a myriad of opportunities to gain knowledge regarding a child’s understanding of the world (Crow et al, 2008, p. 33). It also allows time to observe how a child feels at any given time. Further experience indicates that by providing toys such as puppets, toy animals or dressing up clothes, the practitioner provides the child with a means of expression in a safe environment, allowing him/her to detach themselves from an emotional situation.
This can also be seen on the DVD material, (The Open University, 2013, b) where the child, an elective mute, used karaoke machines and puppets as a medium of communication. Ensuring safe havens would therefore promote practitioners communication methods with children who place importance on feeling safe. Children often suggest that practitioners could provide security by recognizing bullying as a real problem among pupils (The Open University, 2013, b). Practitioners could therefore prioritise emotional literacy by providing ways of expressing emotions such as placing bully boxes in classrooms.
Ensuring equal opportunities between boys and girls would see the practitioner as being fair, which is an important issue during childhood. They could also ensure that every child feels valued at the setting by simply being friendly or by showing care and support for them. This could be done by a simple hand on the shoulder or reciprocating spontaneous hugs (The Open University, 2013, a), however practitioners, especially males, need to be aware of policies and the implications of touch, as contact can be misinterpreted.
Actions must therefore always be above any criticism. Nonetheless, allowing a means of safety and ensuring a place where a child feels content can inhibit frustrations and improve a child’s self-esteem. This can only lead to better communication channels with practitioners. Cultural, social, environmental and emotional factors can therefore create barriers and affect children’s communication. Still, as communication is a social construct, the extent to which it is inhibited depends on time and place.
Practitioners, through knowledge of vital skills can alleviate these barriers in order to assist children suppress their frustrations and emotions, and develop their communication skills along the way. Simultaneously, practitioners gain an insight into the way they are perceived, allowing them to reflect and become better communicators with the children with whom they work. As already stated therefore, ‘communication is vital for development’ (Crow et al, 2008, p. 11), however it is now clear that it has been, presently is, and will be equally vital to the progress of both children and practitioners in the future.
Courtney from Study Moose
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