Communicating with Families of Diverse Backgrounds

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about interacting with families of diverse backgrounds. We will explore the challenges and rewards involved in this process, and we will highlight tips that aid in the communication process.

Interaction with Diverse Families: Challenges and Rewards

Imagine you are starting your first day as a social worker or other, similar professional at a local department of social services. You are just out of graduate school and have studied much about interpersonal relationship skills and effective communication. You are feeling confident and ready to take on the world. Then your supervisor asks you to lead a meeting in which you must discuss a treatment plan for a child whose primary language is Japanese, and whose family has difficulty understanding English. You don't know any Japanese, and suddenly you don't feel as confident as before. In fact, you're a little scared. You struggle to recall what you studied about communicating with families of diverse backgrounds.

Interacting with families of diverse backgrounds can be challenging but rewarding. Challenges include language barriers, cultural barriers, and fear of being misunderstood, among others. The rewards of learning to communicate effectively with families of diverse backgrounds far outweigh the challenges, however. Rewards include learning gaining new perspectives on life, developing interpersonal relationship skills, and - most importantly - helping the community and the world.

Tips for Interacting with Diverse Families

When interacting with families of diverse backgrounds, demonstrating an empathetic attitude is critical. Empathy is the capacity to share or understand another's feelings or emotions. When you take a genuine interest in understanding others and are able to empathize with their situation, it helps set the stage for building a trusting relationship in which positive communication can take place. Active listening involves using non-verbal body language to communicate undivided attention. Examples of active listening include making eye contact and nodding your head. These behaviors show that you care about and understand what is being said.

Now that we have covered active listening, let's discuss reflective listening. Reflective listening means listening attentively to a speaker, then summarizing back to them what they said. You are basically ''reflecting'' their own words back to them. This type of listening helps limit miscommunication and ensures that both parties are on the same page.

Gathering as much information from the family as possible is key. Asking open-ended questions and utilizing reflective listening are great strategies for setting goals and creating treatment plans for children of diverse families.

Active listening and reflective listening are important skills, not just for social workers or those in the human services field, but for teachers and other professionals as well.

It is also important to make use of an interpreter if possible. Unfortunately, there will be many instances in which an interpreter will be unavailable. Many children whose parents do not speak English can speak English themselves, even if it is just a few words. Many families who do not understand English well usually have a relative or close family friend they can bring along to meetings to help communicate effectively.

Another opportunity for developing effective communication is cultural awareness. Cultural awareness involves supporting diversity by seeking out avenues to better understand other people and cultures. Being sensitive and respectful towards the culture and beliefs of families from diverse backgrounds is of the utmost importance. Watching documentaries about other cultures, attending cultural festivals in your area, and reading books about other cultures and beliefs are all good ways to help you effectively communicate with children and families of diverse backgrounds.

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