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Released November 19, 2003

CHALLENGES OF COMMUNICATING WITH CHILDREN
FOCUS OF SOUTHERN MISS PROFESSOR'S NEW BOOK

HATTIESBURG - Communicating with preschool children presents a challenge of creativity and flexibility for adults, according to a new book, "Kids Talking: Learning Relationships and Culture With Children." The book's author, John Meyer, a professor of speech communication at The University of Southern Mississippi, incorporated years spent at a child development center to draw conclusions about communicating with children during their earliest verbal ages.

"I wanted to examine actual interactions in a child care organization, to find out what strategies children and teachers actually used when communicating with one another," Meyer said. "As relationships formed and developed, they all helped create the child care organization's culture." Children, adults - and the researcher - learned to communicate in an organization together, he said.

"In my research on communication in organizations, I found I wanted to go back to the beginning," Meyer said. "So much of adult communication seemed to be determined by how we learned to communicate with people around us when we were children."

"Kids Talking: Learning Relationships and Culture With Children" is published by Rowman & Littlefield.

The first organization many children enter, besides family and church, is a child care center, Meyer said, so he volunteered at a child development center to conduct his research. There he interacted with the children in classrooms and out on playgrounds, observing their communication with each other and with their teachers and staff.

Meyer discovered that children's messages could often be clear and easy to interpret. "I first found that there were not many nuances with children; they managed their relationships with their hearts and their agendas on their sleeves," he said. "Of course, as time went on, I did realize that things were more complicated, but the fact remained that children communicated openly and honestly, especially about relationships, in ways that adults mask and disguise behind more subtle messages."

Trying alternative, fresh perspectives is often the best approach an uncertain adult can take when communicating with a child, Meyer said. "We must be willing to put aside our standard communication expectations, and see the world as exciting, new, and different - the way a child does," he said.

Meyer found some keys to enhancing and improving preschool children's communication, especially at child development centers. These included providing time for free play involving role-playing and communicating adult support to children. "You expect to experience a higher intensity of emotions when communicating with children, and so adults must help children manage emotions, expect and respond to repeated patterns in communication, and establish a strong child care culture that balances adult power with children's creativity."

During his research, spending time with the children put him in contradictory roles at times, Meyer said. "I was doing research, but I was also trying to be of some assistance to the center's staff. My primary role was to be a researcher, observing the communication patterns there; but I was also a communicator, taking part in and becoming part of the organization's culture.

"My goal was to try to understand the communication world of children in a child development center and to communicate that world in as vivid and readable a fashion as possible," Meyer said.

For more information about the book, contact Meyer at (601) 266-4280.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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