Effective communication is one of the most important aspects of building a positive relationship. Communication is an interchange of thoughts and information between people and can be effective only if it is conveyed in a clear, precise and understandable way. This issue was discussed in my previous answer to Assessment Criteria 10.1.1. All good relationships are built on warmth, caring, mutual respect and a willingness to listen to and accept one another. Relationships with children, especially need extra attention and care as children are developing their concepts of the world and their place in it. Building positive relationships with children or young people requires us to be adaptable in our approach when communicating. We need to consider our behaviour with each individual or group, ensuring we maintain positive interactions. Regardless of age, ability or background, children need to feel secure and valued. Good relationships are important for our wellbeing. Humans have evolved as social animals, so we have a natural need to connect with other people and to belong to a social group. This sense of connection and belonging comes from good relationships with the people around us, in our families, at work or school and with our friends. There are several generic principles that underpin building a strong relationship with children, young people and adults.
For teaching assistants, a good starting point would be to watch another adult and take notes of the communication skills being used. It might be that the other adult is calm, shows more facial expression or praises more the children. Smiling also is particularly important when it comes to building relationships. Smiling, being positive and acknowledging a child are all clear signs to the child that we are enjoying being with them. When we are less confident we smile less. If we think that our relationship with a child, young adult or adult is not as good as it could be, it is important to adapt our style of communication.
There are three main aspects that we should consider when communicating with children and young people, so that we can build positive relationships.
Communications with children or young people will be different based on their age. We wouldn’t speak to a 4-year-old child in the same way as we might do with an 11-year-old. We would need to adjust our choice of vocabulary so that the younger child is able to understand what is being said. For example, when young children begin primary school from nursery may need lots of reassurance, so we must be always approachable. From around the age of 3, children are more confident about being with people they don’t know well. While younger children want to hold our hand at playtime to feel secure in their new environment, etc, in the age range 3- to 6-year-old, they gradually start to need reassurance when we speak to them. This is linked to their language development.
Children who do not speak English, or who have some language delay, may want physical reassurance and this should not be discouraged. Every small interaction will hopefully lead on to a trusting relationship between the adult and the pupil.
As the children get older, they might need assistance to help talk through problems or concerns. We should be mindful of the responses we give as we listen to them. Building and maintaining a positive relationship with older children is just as important as it is with the younger ones. All interactions should always be positive. I personally give reassurance by stooping down to the children’s level or sitting beside them, making eye contact, smiling, praising them verbally, gently touching their shoulder or simply joining them as they try out something new. At this age children begin to enjoy chatting and explaining their ideas. Not being interested or not giving time to children can damage their emerging self-confidence.
Older children in the age range 7- to 11-year old, still need adults to talk, but increasingly they need to be listened while exploring their ideas, feelings and thoughts.
At this age range is important that they develop their own views and opinions and that we show our interest in hearing them. When we work with older children, it is important therefore to find time to listen to them when they want to talk. Reassurance praise remain important for children aged 7-11 years, and sometimes this often needs to be given unconditionally.
Young people are likely to be undergoing significant changes in their lives at home and school as well as physically growing up. They need to be able to turn to adults who can listen, empathise, reassure them and understand their problems, however silly they may seem to us. We can build good positive relationships with young people only by respecting their views and by giving them plenty of time and also responsibility. We need to listen to what each child has to say. Children and young people learn from adults and need respect and courtesy from us in order that they can develop these skills themselves. For example, from the earliest age, we should encourage politeness, taking turns and other social norms.
2) Context of the communication
When working in a school, we will be working in a variety of different situations; we must be aware that our communications should adapt accordingly.
If we are working on a focused task or learning activity, we should ensure all learners are engaged in their work. We should speak clearly and concisely, being mindful that we are modelling good communications to the children. We can be friendly but maintain a respectful pupil/practitioner relationship. As a professional at school we should communicate in a professional manner. In schools we have planned communications and unplanned communications. In meetings we need to deliver specific information which needs to be planned and we need to be well prepared to convey it effectively. In written communication body language is not present so the message can be misunderstood, but there are other factors which can convey respect and care when delivering a message.
There may be also times when we can interact with the children in a less formal scenario, such as at playtime. We can use this opportunity to speak with children in a relaxed manner, showing a more playful and humorous side. These times give children an opportunity to see a different side to their teaching and non-teaching staff whilst still maintaining an effective positive and respectful relationship. We must make sure that the key points are understood clearly when an important thing is being communicated to children. Using simple sentences and repeating the points will help them understand better.
Listening is also vital in a conversation. It is important to show interest and use attentive body language in such circumstances.
3) Communication differences
As teaching assistants, we should also ensure that children and young people with special educational needs and/or speech and language difficulties are treated with care and sensitivity. Children with visual or hearing impairments will find it difficult to understand us; however, many strategies can be used to help children communicate more effectively. In fact, we need to adapt the way in which we communicate with these children according to their individual needs. Other opportunities of communication should be provided such as signing and gestures. Sign language is a proper language containing a wide vocabulary and grammatical structure and involving facial expressions. Individual countries have their own signs and often areas in a single country will have some regional differences. Talking clearly so children can see our lip patterns and using gesture and signs, will consistently help to communicate when hearing impairment occurs. We must also pay attention to the environment and if possible, communicate in an area where there is less background noise.
People having visual impairment instead, might not see our gestures and they might miss out information. Some others may have learning difficulties. They may become frustrated and feel isolated. We must always make an effort to understand them, be patient and find possible alternative ways of ensuring that they are included. Visuals and pictures can be very useful for many individuals with communication difficulties. Visual strategies can be used in many ways to enhance understanding and expression. They are particularly useful for children and young people with learning difficulties and/or those with autism. Some individuals are “visual learners” and respond better to visual input than auditory input. We could eventually learn some basic sign language.
If a parent has a hearing impairment or is deaf, we cannot have a verbal communication with them or speak to them on the phone. We will need to meet them personally or communicate with them through letters, emails and text messages. Additional training for adults working with SEN children will always aid better communications and subsequently improve positive relationships with those children or young people who find regular communication difficult.
We also need to consider the different cultural background when children come from different countries. This means their language, values and attitude might be different. The same gestures might mean different things in different cultures. Therefore, we should be careful whilst interacting; it is a good practice to find out more information about different cultures. We need to learn to communicate effectively and respectfully with individuals of varied backgrounds and cultures.
Children and young people should feel unpressured when talking. They may be anxious or nervous when speaking and may also be aware that they can’t communicate as effectively as others. This can often lead to social withdrawal, introversion and loss of interest in activities due to lack of confidence as they put too much pressure on themselves to be understood. To be good communicators with children/young people with learning disabilities we need to use all our communication tools and go at their pace.
I am going to analyse the principles of building a positive relationship with other adults.
As said previously, communication has always been the most important skill when socialising and building relationships with people. The key to building positive relationships with other adults is respect and the understanding from both sides. When people are stressed, or emotionally overwhelmed, communication can be misunderstood. When communicating with other adults who are not colleagues in the school, e.g. parents and carers, we need to be calm and patient and we should make sure we are using a language that is understandable by everyone. As professionals, we should ensure to communicate in a pleasant and clear manner in any situation. In fact, effective communication is important when interacting with parents. It will be easier for staff and parents to work together if they can trust and understand each other properly. Although we may do things differently, everyone involved in the educational setting should work towards the same goal: the happiness and education of the child. As said in the previous Unit (Understand How to Safeguard the Wellbeing of Children and Young People), all relationships are built on trust and information that is given in confidence must remain confidential unless there is an issue about child safety. If teaching assistants and other school staff break confidentiality this trust will be destroyed and will be difficult to rebuild. Communication between members of the teaching and non-teaching staff has to be effective and serve the quality education of the pupils. Confidential information should only be shared with those who are involved in the relevant aspects of the child’s life. Conflicts or disagreements are best to be settled outside the classroom, not in front of the pupils.
Also, a teaching assistant must be careful not to try and answer questions that are beyond their knowledge and expertise. In these cases, the parents’ questions must be referred to the class teacher or a teacher specialised in the field.
When communicating with other adults we must pay attention to any aspects that might cause difficulty for them in expressing themselves or comprehending what is being said. For example, problems may arise when the family is from a different country and has different social norms regarding conversations or some language difficulties. Speaking clearly and providing opportunities for the parents to speak can help to create a positive and trusting relationship. We also must be attentive and patient towards people with hearing or speech impairment, who might have a hard time understanding us if we do not speak loud enough or need time and effort in expressing what they want to say. Therefore, whatever the problem is, as a teacher or a teaching assistant we have to be confident and professional when communicating with other adults.