How nurses can improve communication skills with children, teenagers, and young people




All health professionals, including nurses, have a significant impact on their patients. Not only does this include their health status, but it greatly cuts across psychological well-being, behavioral adaptations, and mental health. Good communication when caring for children and young people is crucial to quality health care.

Furthermore, a 2016 study revealed that effective communication could be the key to building trust with these children and ensuring that the patient is empowered by staying active in their own care. While this might sound extremely easy, communication in this situation is about more than just exchanging words. Communication with children and young people isn’t as easy as with adults. Several factors need consideration, including the child’s developmental stage, age, communication or learning difficulties, etc.

To this effect, this article is a guide on how nurses can improve communication with children and young people at different levels. We’ll also discuss some of the fundamental challenges nurses experience in this endeavor, the components of effective communication and the key processes involved.

The fundamentals of communication with children and young persons

We’ve established that understanding the fundamentals of communication with children and young persons is essential for nurses to foster healthy relationships and facilitate effective interactions. However, we also stated there is more to patient communication than exchanging words.

Firstly, it is crucial to speak to children in an age-appropriate manner, using simple language and avoiding jargon or complex concepts. Nurses that are good at their jobs always find a way to stoop to the children’s level. They can pay attention to how children apprehend and comprehend. Age is another major factor to consider when communicating with younger ones. Children aged 2-7 are known to have a strong imagination and are highly intuitive, while those aged 7-11 are more curious and begin to question many things around them.

The approach taken for both age groups might differ, and it is the job of nurses and caregivers to understand this and make the right decision. Communication also goes both ways, and active listening also plays a pivotal role, as it allows Nurses to comprehend the child’s emotions, concerns, and perspectives on situations. Encouraging open and honest communication by nurses helps create a safe and non-threatening environment where these children express themselves freely. In addition, non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions also help understand their feelings and ensure a supportive atmosphere.

Nurses are a robust support system for children and younger ones, and as such, they also need to be patient, approachable, and empathetic in every circumstance. There is a need for constant positive reinforcement to build positive communication patterns. Through these fundamentals, nurses can create a nurturing environment that promotes effective communication and empowers children and young individuals to grow emotionally and intellectually.

Communication with children can be classified into verbal, non-verbal, or both. We’ve already highlighted some examples of both in the previous heading, including listening closely and paying extra attention to body language, gestures, facial expressions, and more. Some other communication skills for nursing professionals include:

  • Patience
  • Supportiveness
  • Constant reassurance
  • Attentiveness
  • Approachability

Whatever approach is being taken, the skills listed above are essential for every nurse to foster better communication. They all act like a piece of the whole puzzle and are individual parts that could be used to show more care and build a better rapport with children and young people.

Courses such as those by Marymount University foster these skills within their students, nurturing them alongside the evidence-based practices that are paramount to being a successful nurse.

Primary barriers nurses encounter in communicating with children and young people 

Many patients in come into the hospital with anxiety, trauma, and fear. The anxiety and stress of entering the hospital can be heightened in young patients. Negative emotional states can impact the capacity of healthcare staff to help the patient. Nurses must learn to break through this barrier to communicate effectively with younger children and promote quality care. A study on the barriers to therapeutic communication practices in nursing, conducted by a district hospital in Ghana, discovered a variety of factors impact the effectiveness of nurses’ communication. Workload and stress on nurses, family interference, patients’ condition, and negative attitude from patients can hinder patient care.

Despite how concerning that might seem, it doesn’t cover all the problems nurses encounter, as there are more of them, like language barriers, medical trauma, and additional factors that could limit communication between nurses and young people. In this section, we’ll discuss some of these barriers and further explain how to overcome some of them in other areas of the article.

Medical trauma

Medical trauma has been established to be one of the most restricting factors in communication. It comes with intrusive thoughts that sometimes distract children from the present moment. In addition, traumatic events make individuals even more detached, fearful, and anxious, all of which are the opposite of what a nurse would need to encourage open communication. Young people who have encountered or experienced trauma may associate healthcare settings, strangers, or new environments with negative emotions, making it very difficult to communicate.

Parental involvement or interference 

While involving parents in communication with nurses and caregivers is essential, it could also limit the freedom of independent thoughts and expressions. Parental involvement can help your children overcome fear and anxiety. However, overprotective parents might make it difficult for nurses to communicate freely and establish a good relationship with their patient.

Nurses’ workload and time constraints 

While the first two barriers we’ve discussed are dependent on the children, the breakdown in communication sometimes comes from the nurse. Nursing is a highly demanding profession, and as such, requires more time, as well as emotional and physical labor. Nurses have limited time to spend with children, especially when they have a lot of patients to attend. Time and energy constraints are barriers that can impede quality interactions with young patients.

Language barrier and cognitive development 

A language barrier can be a significant factor when patients and nurses speak varying languages. Even if the patient and nurse speak the same language, complex terms and medical terminologies can be difficult to communicate. Some children may experience delayed cognitive development, which could slow their ability to comprehend the medical treatments, understand questions asked, or provide detailed information that a nurse may need. In this case, they might need help with expressing themselves clearly. Using visuals and providing additional assistance through translation or accessibility supports can be helpful in these cases.

How nurses can improve communication with children and younger people: tips and tricks 

Several studies have been carried out on how to improve communication with children and younger ones, and we’ll be discussing some proven techniques that have been effective over time or considered pleasant to children and younger ones.

Manner of communication 

One way to hack therapeutic communications with younger ones is to be highly meticulous about communication. The manner of communication encompasses things like being reassuring, empathetic, and maintaining a calm demeanor when communicating with young people. Many patients are sad, angry, anxious, and mostly in difficult situations. Nurses need to learn how to assess these situations and use an approach that makes them less frantic and more open to communication.

Employs the use of visual aids, play, and other customized communication approach

Children often relate to visuals, colors, and pictures. Incorporating such elements, including visual aids like drawings, toys, or pictures, to explain complex terms could be the way to go. This approach could help the children feel more heard and at ease, enough to share information and communicate effectively.

Build and establish trust

Trust is fundamental to any long-lasting relationship, which applies to nurse-patient relationships. Building a trusting relationship will go a long way in improving their freedom and confidence in you. Ways to improve this are consistency, honesty, and reliability. Let the child know that you are there to support them and that their well-being is a top priority. In addition, nurses can also look to therapeutic communication techniques, such as reflection, validation, and open-ended questions, to encourage the child to express themselves and engage in dialogue.

Involve relatives and collaborate with parents 

It is advised that nurses work closely with children’s parents to understand the child and know which approach to take in communication. Information such as the child’s needs, wants, hobbies, likes, and preferences can be easily obtained from parents and guardians. Having context to a child’s life at home and regular activities can be employed in building a bond with the child.

Nurses should engage parents and relatives right from the point of admission and create an environment where they feel safe enough that the children can mirror their emotions. They would also help the children comply more readily with treatment and feel at ease. Young people and children look up to their older ones a lot more often, and when they see parents more at ease with caregivers, it sometimes prompts them to show the same emotions.

Also, every child is unique, and no one would understand a child’s unique point of view more than their parents. Nurses can easily exploit this to know the children’s communication preferences. Afterward, they can take a flexible approach that would work best for the child.

Active listening

Another great way to help children feel heard and understood is by actively listening and showing them that their voices matter. In the long run, this allows children to express emotion easily, whether in discomfort or distress. Ask them questions, and give them the attention to express themselves willfully. It’s also not enough to just listen, and it is often advised to embrace reflective listening and follow up constantly on specific conversations. This shows the children that you genuinely care about their well-being and makes them more open to sharing. In addition, nurses can also take steps to actively involve the children in decision-making and not force choices on them. Allow them to get a sense of control and autonomy that can further boost their confidence and esteem. These attributes will help children speak out more and break free from fear, timid emotions, and anxiety.

How can nurses improve their communication skills? 

It isn’t enough to learn about these communication techniques. A quality program, such as those from Marymount University, provides a great foundation of skills for nursing, such as communication, with the ability for clinical placements allowing students to practice in the field. They are supported by tutors and encouraged to seek feedback from patients and colleagues to develop these skills further. Communication is a significant skill for nurses, and that can easily be perfected by knowing where they are lacking and doing better to improve on that. Other ways of continuously improving these skills are to participate in ongoing education and training targeted at helping do better at caregiving. By enrolling in such an activity, they can easily get practical tips from industry experts on navigating the hurdles of caring for and communicating with children and young people. Lastly, self-reflection is another way to go. Nurses can do better by assessing and reflecting on their personal growth in communicating with patients and making intentional efforts to improve.

Choosing communication as a skill for building better relationships

Communication is an essential skill for nursing and caregiving for all patients, and young patients in particular. As a nurse, you have the ability to greatly impact the lives of children and their families by providing health education, health treatment and quality care. The better you are at clear and compassionate communication, the more you can be an effective nurse in these cases. When you incorporate the recommendations listed above, you will improve your ability to build strong relationships with the children you care for as a nurse.

Communication between healthcare professionals and patients is extremely important, and not just for kids and teens. Check out the infographic below for tips to enhance that communication for best patient outcome possible.

Infographic provided by Postal Methods, a company that can send postal mail online for your business

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