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Interpersonal vs Intrapersonal Communication for Kids

What’s the difference between interpersonal and intrapersonal communication and how does each relate to your child's development?

When it comes to the way your kiddo communicates, there’s more to it than them being able to make sounds and form complete sentences (or attempt to depending on their age). Communication happens all the time whether it’s a baby crying because they’re hungry or a pre-teen storming off to their room because they’ve gone over their allotted iPad usage

There are five styles of communication:

  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Group
  • Public
  • Mass

For children, the interpersonal and intrapersonal styles can help their social-emotional development and lay the basis for healthy habits. 

What is interpersonal communication?

Interpersonal communication is communication where the exchange of information happens between two or more people either in person, online, over the phone, or in writing. What makes this communication type inter instead of intra is:

  • It is inescapable. Our bodies will betray us if we hold on to a thought. Our mood, attitude, and body language will always denote what we’re feeling whether we verbalize it or not. Think of your child’s last tantrum. Before the crying started, there were probably clues in their body language that foretold the coming storm. Unfortunately, parenting does not come with a raincoat and some storms need to be weathered.
  • It is irreversible. Once something is communicated, whether written or verbal, it’s in our minds forever. You can delete a post or take back something you said but the fact remains, it was said/written in the first place. Kids pick up foul language if they hear it. They may not understand the context and need a lesson on why you can’t say certain words but they said it and it cannot be taken back.
  • It is complex. There’s always a chance that a miscommunication can occur between the sender and receiver. Different nuances happen with interpersonal communication such as tones and emphasis on certain words. The phrase, “I’m hungry,” coming from your child can have different meanings depending on how they’ve said it.
  • It is contextual. The context of interpersonal communication can be environmental/cultural (interaction styles based on where you live, the culture you are exposed to), psychological (moods, emotions), situational (where the conversation is taking place), and relational (the specific relationship you have with the other person).

Which interpersonal skills do kids need to develop?

As children reach certain developmental milestones the following interpersonal skills will develop in tandem:

  1. Communication: This refers to the broader term of verbal, nonverbal, and public speaking. For example, a shy kid may not be able to speak up in public and hide behind you in social situations. This doesn’t mean they’re destined to be shy forever but it does show that they are communicating in a nonverbal way that they are scared/uncomfortable.
  2. Empathy: As kids age, they learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and become empathic. For instance, they may get multiple toys for their birthday and learn that a friend of theirs is less fortunate and only receives one present. Through this, they will begin to understand that not everyone comes from the same financial means and may be inclined to share their toys with their less fortunate friend.
  3. Leadership: Children do not need to be in leadership positions to become leaders. Leadership comes in different forms like speaking up for others in group settings. An example would be a kid noticing their shy friend isn’t talking and actively trying to engage with them without making them feel uncomfortable. Children also learn to motivate each other by offering words of encouragement and giving hugs when they notice a friend is down in the dumps. This also ties into empathy.
  4. Listening: Parents, you know when you talk to your kiddo and it feels like what you’ve said has gone in one ear and out the other? Don’t fret. It may just mean your child hasn’t honed their receptive skills yet. Eventually, your child will learn to take an active listening role when someone is speaking. To encourage active listening, read to your child if you can. This forces them to pay attention and you can ask questions as you go to engage them. 
  5. Collaboration: Because interpersonal communication happens between two or more people, children can learn to collaborate in group settings. They also learn to share ideas and objects like their toys and get a taste of teamwork. 

What is intrapersonal communication? 

Whereas interpersonal communication happens between two or more people, intrapersonal communication is done with oneself. This includes the thoughts, contemplations, feelings, and assessments that we have with our inner selves. What makes this communication intra and not inter is:

  • It is self-conceptual. When looking inward, we evaluate our own beliefs, attitudes, and values to see how they fit in with the world. Adults are often able to shift our thinking when we learn something new and adapt. For children, this is equivalent to them thinking someone has “cooties” and then learning that this person a) does not have “cooties” and b) “cooties” aren’t real leading them to shift their beliefs. 
  • It is about perception. This is the ability to interpret what’s going on around us. To a child, the world can seem big and scary. But, as they grow, they learn the difference between their perception and reality. An example would be a closet monster. To a kid, there’s a monster in the closet until you open the closet door and show them that there isn’t. When you tuck them in bed the next night, they won’t be as scared because they can now have a reassuring conversation with themselves noting that the monster isn’t real. 
  • It is based on expectations. When you have a conversation with yourself, you are managing your own expectations about what will happen by taking into consideration what has happened. Children learn that if they do a certain task or say a certain thing they can expect a certain outcome. They learn to internalize their expectations instead of asking what all children ask 100 times a day: WHY? 

Which intrapersonal skills do children need to develop?

While developing their interpersonal skills, children are also working on their intrapersonal skills such as:

  1. Visualization: This is how children learn to see themselves in a situation and determine how to succeed. Like a quarterback being able to “see” the field from every angle to know which wide receiver to throw to after the snap, your kiddo will be able to visualize themselves in different situations. These situations can range from going to a new friend’s house after school to starting swimming lessons to everyday tasks like brushing their teeth.
  2. Compassion: This ties into the empathy part of interpersonal communication. Having compassion means being able to see another’s perspective. Kids can learn to put aside their own feelings and views to relate to others by looking inward and asking questions like: Why does Alice have less than me? How can I help Lisa be happy? What can I do to make Keith smile? And, Who is making Anthony cry? 
  3. Decision making: Even adults struggle with decision-making sometimes but it’s important to note that having the ability to understand the decision-making process is a good intrapersonal skill. A child may be faced with basic decisions such as picking out a pair of pajamas or a book to read. However, if they can understand the process, they’re on the right path.

What’s a parent/caregiver’s role in inter- and intrapersonal communication?

Children’s communication abilities develop at the same time as their social skills. Because kids are constantly interacting with those around them even if they cannot talk yet, they’re always picking up on new cues like facial expressions and body language. This helps them be more assertive as they get older and determine what they want and need, and learn how to communicate with different people. All you need to do is have patience as your kiddo wades through the waters of communication. Remember that you can’t expect a child to be compassionate from birth or be a leader overnight. What you can do is support them and guide them along the way.

Snorble® and communication

Our smart companion for children can help kids work on their communication skills. Snorble is designed to help children gain healthy habits, lay the foundation for social-emotional development, and establish a love of learning through interactive educational games. Snorble’s activities provide children with the ability to hone their communication skills when they engage with our smart companion. 


Photo by Keren Fedida on Unsplash


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