Effective Communication Skills

The best adult-child relationships are created by positive interactions and communication.

When we are communicating with a child it is important to increase awareness and understanding of the different ways to support positive interactions and play with children, young people and those with additional needs.

The following are some helpful hints to communicate effectively with a child within a hospital environment:

  • 60% of communication is non-verbal. Remembering this reduces the perceived disadvantage of those with limited verbal skills, English as a second language, or a child or young person more hesitant to engage.
  • It is just as, if not more, important to listen than to speak, ensure to listen attentively.
  • Don’t rush in: take a minute or two to prepare and relax – perhaps do some breathing exercises before you engage with a child and their parent, or remind yourself of how you make your introduction.
  • Observe: take another few minutes to observe the patient’s behaviour and absorb what you see. How does the patient move, use their body, hand and face, what kind of mood are they in. You can do this while having a conversation and finding out what they like.
  • Always be aware of your own body language, level and tone of voice when engaging with a child. Leave your posture open, do not lean against walls or cross your arms.
  • Be available: use observations to join the patient in their space by matching behavioural features. Maybe link a reassuring phrase to a behaviour: a smile, a nod or gesture.
  • Receive and accept the patient’s emotions. Are they sad, anxious or angry? Acknowledge their feelings and don’t judge or dismiss them for feeling this way – use kind words to comfort the child e.g. It’s ok to feel sad, you are being so brave.
  • Use positive and encouraging language to foster the child’s self-esteem, and find specific compliments e.g., “well done on painting that lovely picture, you added so many bright colours to the flowers.” “That was a great game of Uno, you really knew when to take out that wild card!”
  • Invite the child to talk about the activity in which they engaged in by using open-ended questions and comments such as “Tell me about your picture?”
  • Ensure to talk “with” a child and not “at” a child. This involves talking to them and then listening to what they have to say.
  • When required, be firm if directing a child e.g., we must go back to your room now as it’s dinner-time.
  • Eye contact is important so ensure to come down to the child’s level when talking to and engaging with them.
  • Speak to children and young people age appropriately.
  • Using humour when engaging and interacting with a child can make communication easier and help make a connection.
  • Remember that all children are unique so what works well for one child may not for another.