by Steve Adubato, PhD

It’s July 4th weekend. What better time to think about independence—in this case, more independent communication?

One of the keys to becoming a more effective communicator is to pick up positive skills and “best practices” at a younger age. Sometimes, as we grow into adulthood, we develop some bad communication habits that are hard to break. We get stuck in a rut. We convince ourselves this is “just the way I am,” which can often produce shy, non-communicative, behavior that is seen as standoffish and unappealing.

But, what does it mean to help our children to become more “independent” communicators? Consider the following:

--I started a dinnertime tradition in our family a couple of years ago—when our kids were 4, 6 and 16—of asking them; “Tell me the most interesting thing that happened at school today?” Initially, I was met with; “Come on, dad, you have to be kidding. Nothing happened today.” But, as I pressed a little further by saying, “I bet there was ONE interesting or fun thing that happened,” I found that each one of our sons started to talk about their day. A little bit at a time. Our littlest one, Chris, would say things like, “Today, in art class, I drew a picture of a baseball player that I saw on the Yankees.” I follow up by saying, “Which Yankee and why did you pick him?” Soon, the other two kids wanted in on the conversation. They wanted to talk about their day. Now, it’s become one of the more positive traditions in our family. These conversational skills are essential to becoming a more independent and effective communicator.

--Stop ordering for your kids in a restaurant. Let them order for themselves. My colleague Mary has two young boys and visits her local diner regularly. When it comes time to order, Mary orders for herself, but then leaves the rest up to her boys saying, “Will (who is 8) what would you like today?” Initially, Mary met resistance from Will, who of course wanted her to order for him. But, over time, Will began ordering his own drink, then his soup (with extra crackers) and then it came to a point where he spoke up for himself—without Mary prompting him—when the waiter came to the table. His younger brother, Joey, soon wanted to order for himself as well. Clearly, Mary is creating a foundation for her two sons to grow up to be more confident and strong communicators who can speak up for themselves, make eye contact and project their voice. Years later, this will come in handy in business meetings, negotiations and possibly asking a girl for a date. (We are talking practical communication tips.)

--Regularly read to your kids and encourage them to read with your help. The best communicators often have strong vocabularies. They are rarely stuck for the right word to use in a particular situation. Words come to them because their vocabulary vault is heavily stocked. It is harder to build a strong vocabulary as an adult, so it makes sense to start at a young age. My communication coaching clients will sometimes say, “I’m just not that articulate.” But, what they really mean is they don’t feel confident that they have the words to express themselves. Gaining this confidence by building your vocabulary will make you more independent, which means you won’t need a crutch. You’ll use fewer qualifiers such as “um”, “ah” or “like” and you’ll know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Now that’s independence.