We are well into this very different school year and doing a good job at embracing the challenges! While many things about this school year are new to us, there are other issues that have stayed constant. I’d like to share a big concern that parents have, and from that, a way to work with communication that will have a positive impact on both the immediate area of concern and the foundation to support its growth.
I frequently hear from parents that they are concerned their child will start to feel badly about themselves as a result of their speech, language or social skill delays or difficulties. Parents are correct and I see it all of the time. Academic performance and peer relationships can be negatively impacted by challenges with speech and language.
In my experience, the way to address the negatives created from a speech/language delay are to create a solid communication foundation. Since language and our psycho-emotional matrix is completely interconnected and complex, creating healthy communication skills leads to healthier relationships, including the one with yourself! A bit like putting our own mask on before engaging with another. Very appropriate analogy these days!
These first steps inform our words and actions at the root level. How we communicate impacts the relationships we have, including the one with ourselves. I have found that if a healthy foundation of communication skills lives within us then working with speech and language difficulties, and the accompanying self-confidence issues becomes much easier.
Our speech shapes our identity. Our voice, speech, and expression are connected to how we engage with others and therefore impacts our social relationships and interactions. Speech gives us power; a sense of place and purpose.
We want to cultivate self-esteem, our emotional appraisal of our self-worth, which determines how we think, feel and act in relation to ourselves and others. And as a result, but often in tandem, we also want to cultivate self-confidence; being able to rise to challenges, deal with difficult situations and know how to take responsibility for the events in our lives.
Speech brings a lot to the surface. Memories are tied up with what people have said to us and what we have said to others. Words stay with us for life. Kind or mean words shape who we are and who we can, or choose to become. Do we have a right to receive, succeed, grow, exist? Words can give us strength. Can we praise, forgive, apologize, ask for help? Personal and societal expectations shape our identity. They can overwhelm us. They can support us. We are looking for a balance between the two but often need guidance to find it.
In my work with kids, I am mindful to track facial expressions, tone of voice, quantity and quality of verbal expression and the level of interaction and engagement throughout the session. There is a full spectrum of esteem and confidence in all of us that waxes and wanes continuously. Kids can be joyful, playful, insightful, engaged and courageous in sessions. And naturally, they can also want to hide their feelings, or show them all up front, shut down, cry, get angry, become negative, dismissive, or even collapse. These are all signs that support is needed with consistency, authenticity and loving presence. Not only do I see my work as helping kids with speech and language skills, improving academic performance and social skills, but as a foundation to all of that I believe in helping kids learn how to navigate their inner and outer world. We are all a work in progress, helping each other navigate the challenges and enjoy the beauty of this world!
Here are a few first steps to help kids and adults improve self-esteem and self-confidence, which supports healthy communication:
- Slow things down—when emotions get triggered everything said and heard is heightened. Slowing down allows for the space needed to process feelings and make connections with new ideas.
- Forget any agenda—what was perceived as needed and necessary has changed. A new experience is waiting to happen.
- Look at your own words, tone of voice and pacing—We need to examine our own way of being in order to be in the best relationship possible with the person we are with.
- Become curious—this is one of the best ways to contact, heal and grow in any situation. Be curious about what we notice. Listen, ask a question, and see how our interactions impact who we are with.
- Observe and name—we all want to be seen without judgment. It is helpful to name what we see with a kind and compassionate voice and presence.