Are communication skills affected by how a person was raised?

The ability to tell your thoughts, understand the intentions of others, and share feelings through mutual understanding is "communication skills.” The presence or absence of communication skills is an important indicator in judging a person's character and personality. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has also defined communication skills as "the ability to form human relationships'' and started promoting communication education in 2010.

So, here’s a simple question. Are communication skills affected by how a person was raised? This brings us to the topic of our fifth “Dr. Takao Takahashi’s Ask Anything”:“children’s communication skills.” I, an editorial staff member of a childbirth preparation website and father of one, interviewed Dr. Takahashi, a professor of pediatrics at Keio University School of Medicine, about his research.

Communication skills cannot be measured in the first place. 

I: Today, I would like to talk about “Children’s communication skills.” As a member of society, I often realize the importance of communication skills. However, when looking at my own child or children around them, I see that there are children who are good at communication and who are not. Where does this difference come from?

Dr. Takahashi: First of all, I would like to point out that “communication skills” are very difficult to measure. In other words, it is almost impossible to determine the presence or absence based on a common standard. It’s not like running a 100-meter race. It is very hard to measure IQ accurately. Communication skills are the best example of this, especially because whether the skill is high or low depends on other people. It is a bit strange to try to make an absolute evaluation when it is supposed to be relative.

I: You’re right. I think the question itself was strange…

Dr. Takahashi: I mean, I think you are getting to the heart of the matter in a way. Let's think about what kind of point of view we should use to judge the presence or absence of communication skills. In conclusion, I think it's whether or not you can communicate in the correct way according to the situation.

I: What do you mean by “the correct way according to the situation?”

Dr. Takahashi: The most used communication in Japan is verbal communication in Japanese. Understanding each other’s thoughts and feelings through language is what communication is. In general, people who are described as having “poor communication skills” are those who are not good at doing this. But to be exact, they are actually those who have few people with whom they can communicate with.

I: I see, I see.

Dr. Takahashi: To give an extreme example, the painters Gauguin and Van Gogh are said to have done things that normal people would consider to be communication disorders. To the people around them, Gauguin and Van Gogh were very strange. However, they were really close. This is because they were able to communicate well with each other. On the other hand, their paintings have strong influences and convey their emotions to people throughout history. This is a very unique form of art, but it is also the result of high communication skills that they had. 

I: I totally agree with you! However, since the topic of today is children’s communication skills, please don’t diverge into different time periods.

The ways of developing communication skills

I: As parents, we want our children to have many friends and to have good communication skills. In order to have smooth communications when they grow older, what can parents do for their children?

Dr. Takahashi: I think it’s about giving them “good experience.” It's the same with exercise, for example. If you strike out every time you play baseball, you won't be able to practice, but if you get a good hit once every few times, it will “reinforce” you. Therefore, the more successful experiences you have, the more you will learn steadily and improve. If you want to acquire communication skills, it is important to spend fun time with people who you can get along well with or who understand you very well.

I: So, you mean, letting them hang out with their close friends as much as possible?

Dr. Takahashi: Umm… You don’t have to urge this to happen, but you can just let it happen naturally. It is not difficult for children to acquire the basics of communication skills. Even communication between parents and children is a natural part of life, isn’t it? 

I: You’re right. As with friends, I think it is important to have good communication between parents and children and give children good experiences in order to provoke the “feelings of fun.”

Dr. Takahashi: That is very important. It can just be a normal communication. You don’t have to be conscious about this. Children learn through normal conversation.

I: (In order to develop children’s communication skills) Parents don’t need to be uptight about "having a good conversation" or "making sure to have a good time.”

Dr. Takahashi: Yes. Even a simple “Hmm” from a parent who doesn’t talk much is fine. If parents truly care about their children, they don’t have to worry too much about the words they say to their children.

I: I see…I thought that people with good communication skills grew up in a friendly family.

Dr. Takahashi: I think that is not right. Regardless of the way a child communicates, personality is not something that is created during upbringing, but is determined by genetics. Of course they might change according to family environment, but it's best to think of it as just a matter of personality being utilized.

I: I see. My child is only two years old, but he is much more social than I was when I was little, and sometimes I wonder who he looks like. His face looks exactly like mine... Is this really a big part of genetics?

Dr. Takahashi: Maybe you always had a sociable personality but did not show it when you were little. There is also the possibility of mother’s genetics. It is a lot meaningful to have a mixture of genes from both father and mother.

I: I see…I want my child to grow up without losing his sociability if possible.

Dr. Takahashi: There is no problem if you talk to him naturally. In any case, there is an inborn-personality that a child was born with. And this personality affects the ways of communicating. A child who is a bit mischievous prefers to communicate in a violent manner, while a thoughtful child will take a softer approach without taking too much action. However, even if your child is a little mischievous, there is no problem at all as long as they can communicate with other mischievous children, and they will be able to communicate with each other in a more sophisticated way. As a first step, I think nurturing your child's "abilities'' through heart-to-heart communication at home would be nice.


Dr. Takao Takahashi

Keio University School of Medicine, Head Professor of Pediatrics, Medical Doctor specializing in General Pediatrics and Pediatric Neurology

After graduating from Keio University School of Medicine in 1982, Dr. Takahashi served in the Department of Pediatric Neurology at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital and as a neurology lecturer at Harvard Medical School. He returned to Japan in 1994, and has been active as both doctor and professor at Keio University Pediatrics since. His hobby is running, and his best marathon time is 3 hours 7 minutes at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon, earning the nickname of “fastest pediatric professor in Japan.”


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