To communicate effectively and contribute to positive relationships with children and young people, we will be required to demonstrate and model certain skills in our dealing with others. In fact, effective spoken communication requires being able to express ideas and views clearly, confidently and concisely in speech, tailoring content and style to the audience and promoting a “free-flowing” communication. As teaching assistants, we need a range of interpersonal skills to be able to facilitate effective communication with the pupils and we need to be aware of their level of development and language ability.
I am going to analyse the skills that teaching and non-teaching practitioners need when communicating with children and young people:
Showing effective communication, listening and building empathy – This is the main way to build relationships with children and young people. Communicating effectively includes using body language, facial expressions, facing the child, using open handed gestures, and smiling. Building open and honest relationships by respecting children, young people and their parents/carers, it is important to demonstrate understanding, respect and honesty.
As teaching assistants, we need to hold conversations at the appropriate time and place, understanding the value of daily contact. It is important to be polite and respectful when communicating and listening to the child’s point of view. We need to acknowledge the child’s position and needs, and remember issues that are personal to them, taking the time to actively listen to the child. Breakdowns in communication and relationships often occur because of not being able to listen attentively.
It is important, when communicating with children and young people, to be clear and concise, using age appropriate language in a way that the child understands, taking into consideration any additional learning needs that they may have. Being relaxed, confident and articulate helps the child or young person to follow the conversation and gives them confidence when communicating with you as a teaching assistant. It is important to avoid sarcasm and shouting as this can cause the child to become frightened and confused.
Following the rules of turn-taking and being polite to the children (no shouting, no talking over people, etc.), shows them that they are respected by the other person and this gives them a positive example to follow when developing their inter-personal skills. According to Kamen (2011), if the adult is relaxed, confident, uses the vocabulary in an appropriate way for the pupils’ age and abilities, and encourages them to respond and take an active part in the communication process, the children will develop a positive attitude towards social interactions.
Also, we should repeat to pupils to check on mutual understanding, particularly if they have used incorrect language. In fact, when a child makes a grammatical or pronunciation error, we need to repeat the phrase back to them using the correct grammar and pronunciation. But we should never ridicule their mistakes, their accent or use of dialect words. Sometimes, it may be necessary to use additional aids to assist with communication. Additional aids include pictures, signs, or symbols, sign language, or even an interpreter for a child whose first language is not English.
Being able to find opportunities to speak – It is crucial that practitioners give to the child or the young person the chance to speak and express themselves. Some children may lack confidence and need time to be able to express what they are trying to say. We should encourage children/young adults to ask questions, offer ideas and make suggestions.
It is also important to provide questions, prompts and cues to encourage and support the child’s language skills and to assist with their independent learning. Also, asking “open” questions encourages children and young people to talk. As well as asking questions, it is important to be able to answer the child’s question and responding positively to what is being said and encourage them to ask questions. We must ensure that we are patient and understanding with the child or young person so that they do not feel rushed or pressured.
When starting to talk to a child/young person we can eventually talk about something children/young people like. For example, talking to them in a friendly way about football, music or computer games, make them feel more comfortable. Practitioners can also talk to them about hobbies, interests, friends and family; this will make it easier to start a conversation, but it is important to remember our role.
Using non-verbal communication and facial expressions – When someone speaks to us, we actually receive more information from body language than from the words spoken. It is said that only 10% of what we communicate is in the form of the words we use, and the rest comes from non-verbal communication. As teaching assistants, we should make sure we are showing interest by the way we act with children and young people. We need to be approachable, to get down to the child’s level as it can be intimidating if someone is just standing over them. We should smile, react and comment in a positive way to what they are saying. Therefore, appropriate non-verbal skills support the success of communication: these include facing the pupil, making eye contact, leaning slightly towards them, smiling, nodding, etc. We need to make sure that when a child/young adult is talking, we are giving our full attention. For example, when a 5-year-old is drawing at a table and wants our help, we need to sit or kneel beside the child and make eye contact. To show an interest in what children/young people say, we should listen actively and restate what they said to show that we understand.
Consulting and negotiating – We need to consult the children, young people and their parents or carers. As teaching assistants, we should be able to understand the key roles and value of our pupils’ families and know when to refer them to sources of information or support, to reach the best for the child or young person. Informing and involving the children/young people, help them to assess different courses of action and the possible consequences of each step.