If your child is feeling left out, look at your own interpersonal communication.

Parental Influences on Interpersonal Communication

by Lora Mathews

You've already noticed that your kid mimics you, and that the way you act can come out in his behavior. So it's no surprise that he is also your mirror when it comes to interpersonal communication -- in other words, how you talk to people, from your attitude to your tone of voice, is teaching your son or daughter how to relate to others. If he's having trouble making friends in preschool or doesn't share well at play dates, it's time to show him the right stuff to prepare him socially and emotionally to work and play with others.

1. Be a Social Director

Remember the perky cruise director on "Love Boat" reruns? It's time for you to be that girl for your kid's sake. Set up play dates, help ease him into groups by participating in the games, and most importantly, talk it up. Convince your kid of the fabulous time he will have playing with the others and taking turns. Show all the enthusiasm of someone trying desperately to sell a used car.

2. Be a Good Example

When your kid is watching, make sure you have pleasant conversations with your partner, your mom, your friends. That means you listen and smile and take part without interrupting or rolling your eyes, even when it's really tempting! Your kid may pick and choose which of your directions to follow, but he'll pay attention to what you do even when you wish he wasn't looking. Let him see what works, and be aware that you're under the microscope. You're modeling interpersonal behaviors all the time, and that guides his communication style indirectly.

3. Consider Your Discipline Style

A lot of what your child knows about getting along with people comes from the way you react to his behavior and manage his opposition. If you have a laid-back approach to discipline and let your little one get away with a lot at home, he's probably having trouble playing with other kids because he hasn't learned how to share and take turns and be careful with other people's things. On the other hand, if you're a hard-line, strict disciplinarian who gives orders and makes threats, you may have a very shy and withdrawn child on your hands who is scared to make a misstep. If you take care to explain cause and effect to your child and reason with him, he'll have a better grip on how to handle conflict with kids his own age.

4. Have a Conversation

One way to be a good influence on your kid's communication skills is to talk with him. You may think you do that all the time, but chances are you either talk "at" him, meaning you're telling him what to do, or you're doing what parents of preschoolers do all the time -- listen to a long story about a cartoon or someone's cousin's cat having kittens until your mind wanders. Make an effort to sit down with your kiddo and talk about something with no other goal in mind. Find out what he's looking forward to doing this summer or if he thought the movie you saw was funny. Take turns, show interest, add your own thoughts, and generally help him practice having a conversation. Then take it to the next level and play a simple board game with him while talking about what's going on in the game and why following the rules makes it work in a fun way. You'll be teaching a lesson in interpersonal communication without him even knowing.

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