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Health Communication

Communicating with Children


All of the principles on this page apply to children as well, but here are some additional tips for communicating with this population.

  • Be age appropriate
    Find out your audience's typical reading level as well as the level of conceptual difficulty they can handle. Consider the appropriate image to text ratio.
  • Incorporate audience participation into any learning activity, even if you cannot directly interact with your audience.
  • Address the whole child in your learning activities
    Compartmentalizing is not a strong skill for most children; therefore consider any physical, emotional, social, and cognitive needs that may be present and incorporate them into your approach.
  • Use positive messages that focus on strengths.
    Let children imagine what they can be, not what they shouldn't be. This includes using images that let children see themselves in positive ways.

Knowing the typical developmental stages of children is crucial to preparing appropriate and effective communication. UNICEF has a great site to help you navigate this critical information. 

(adapted from UNICEF's Communicating with Children)


Communicating with Older Adults


All of the principles on this page apply to older adults as well, but here are some additional tips for communicating with this population.

  • Beware of the tendencies to stereotype older adults or use patronizing speech.
  • Sit face-to-face and speak clearly 
  • Minimize background noise
  • Ask open ended questions and LISTEN
  • Address your older patient/client even if a companion is in the room
  • Engage in shared decision making
  • Ensure recommendations make sense to your patient/client's specific living situation
  • Verify comprehension - your own and theirs.

(adapted from The Gerontological Society of America's Communicating with Older Adults: An Evidence-Based Review of What Really Works)


Methods and Recommendations

Borrow from the Library

Communicating Across Cultures

All of the principles on this page apply to working with clients/patients who have cultural backgrounds different from your own, but here are some additional tips for working with these populations.

  • Observe and Listen carefully - you may need to pick up on subtle cues to help you determine whether your patient/client understands and is communicating openly.
  • Be aware of your own non-verbal tendencies (eye contact, personal space, touch, etc) and whether those tendencies make your patient/client uncomfortable.

  • Deference and reserve do not automatically indicate agreement. Provide your clients/patients extra opportunities and prompts for questions.
  • Explore your patient/client's perspective, being particularly sensitive to belief systems and customs.

"How has your condition impacted your daily life?"

"What do you know about your condition and how it works?"

  • Respect family dynamics. If a client/patient is accompanied by one or more family members, include them in introductions, but ask your client/patient how she or he would like them included in decision making.
  • Be sensitive to differing views on sexuality and gender roles. Be up front about the typical questions and examinations that might occur, but ask permission before proceeding. 

(Based on Betancourt, J.R., Green, A. R., & Carrillo, J. E. (2021). The patient's culture and effective communication. UpToDate. Retrieved February 17, 2023 from

Further Reading

Communicating with Language Differences

Aspects of culture such as norms and attitudes may impact provider-client communication, both verbal and non-verbal. In addition to the the resources on this page, the information sources on the Cultural Knowledge tab can help you learn more about such cultural factors.

Culturally effective providers are able to communicate with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) clients in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways. This means using an interpreter whenever possible and providing translated health information. The following resources have information on using interpreters, sources of translated health information handouts, and additional tools for communicating with LEP clients.

Please visit our Health Literacy and Communication guide for more resources and best practices for communicating with clients.

Language Apps

Resources for Patients

Health Information in Different Languages

Working with Interpreters