Most children are capable of responding to positive communication and developing their full potential said the UNICEF resource package titled, “Communicating with Children: Principles and Practices to Nurture, Inspire, Excite, Educate and Heal.” This document supports children’s communication rights and highlights the role communication plays in improving the lives of children worldwide.
As a parent, you need to fully recognize that your children, in each stage of their development, have unique needs and skills as well as “personal voices that deserve to be listened to with respect and empathy.” You communicate with your children to help them develop their self-esteem and confidence, support their social and emotional development, and above all make them feel loved.
Love is the essence of parent-child interaction. Communication efforts should not only provide children with a “voice” but also “love.”
Infants and toddlers need help from their loved ones starting with their parents when learning how to talk and communicate their thoughts and feelings. Here are a few strategies to help develop your baby’s or toddler’s language skills:
- Respond to their gestures, looks, and sounds
Infants and toddlers communicate in many different ways including facial expressions, gestures, body movements, and sounds. When they put their arms out to you, pick them up, kiss them and say simple words, like “You want up.” When they coo, coo back or when they gaze at you, make eye contact and talk to them.
Your immediate and attuned responses tell them their ability to communicate is effective and that you value their feelings. With such encouragement coming from you, they will continue to develop their speech and language skills.
- Talk and listen to your child
You can start communicating effectively and openly with your child beginning as early as birth. This will help you and your child develop a special bond together. You can do this by giving your child plenty of love and time and creating a language rich environment for open communication.
Initiate the conversation by being there for your children and encourage them to open up and share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns with you. When you talk with them, give them time to respond. Make eye contact on their level. Help your child see themselves as a good communicator so they can be motivated to develop their expressive and receptive language skills.
- Avoid overcorrecting your child
Overcorrecting is the exact opposite way of supporting your child’s communication skills at their level. The more you demand your child to pronounce something right, the higher chance they stop practicing talking and uttering speech sounds, especially if it is a sound that does not develop until they get older. You want to avoid situations that cause your child to feel anxious when communicating.
- Treat your child as a full communication partner
When communicating with your child use age appropriate vocabulary words that your child can talk about and understand. At times, you will need to talk to them as if they are adults, but remember your child is still developing language. The best thing you can do is to value what they say. Take turns, make eye contact, engage in what they are talking about and reply to them even if you are not sure what they are saying. Most times you will be able to understand what they are trying to say based on the context of the topic.
- Help them build on their language skills
The more words that adults speak to children, the better language skills children develop. The more (types of) language input that children receive, the more their language skills can develop and grow over time.
You can help your infant or toddler develop strong language skills by teaching them how to use language in everyday activities and routines including:
- Describing what you or your child is seeing or doing.
- Demonstrating the different ways an object may be used.
- Commenting during daily routines like mealtime, bath time, and playtime.
- Repeating unfamiliar words in different contexts and in different situations.
- Labelling an object or activity.
- And many more.
- Teach them body language
Body movements, facial expressions, and gestures will help support your child’s communication skills. Show and explain body language when communicating with your child but ensure your body language is consistent with your words. A combination of verbal and non-verbal communication will help to get your point across, such as “I’m folding my arms because I’m feeling angry.”
- Ask open-ended questions
Give your child the chance to practice and use their language and speaking skills by asking them open-ended questions and not only “yes” and “no” questions. Asking your child open-ended questions will help your child learn how to freely express their opinions and give detailed answers. For example, you can ask your child, “What did you learn today?”
- Read, read, and read together
Reading with your child helps them to develop their imagination and their receptive and expressive language skills. Reading helps them understand speech sounds and language structure. When reading with your child:
- You can let them choose the books and turn the pages.
- Take turns reading aloud to one another.
- Add a voice to each character to help them distinguish between characters and determine how the characters feel through the tone of your voice.
- Ask them to guess what will happen next.
- You can discuss the setting, characters, plot, and any new words that might be in the story.
It does not matter what you read with your child (i.e. picture books, stories on iPads, magazines, road signs, etc.), as long as you do it together. Reading with your child does not only support the development of their expressive and receptive language skills, but allows you to develop a special loving bond together. Your child will also discover that books are fun and have the opportunity to become a good reader and succeeed in school.
- Engage in musical activities
Perhaps a more fun and enjoyable way to support your child’s language skills is to incorporate music into daily activities and routines. Singing and listening to songs can give your child an opportunity to practice hearing and using new sounds and words. They will also be able to start a conversation. According to research, musical activities help children develop awareness of sounds (phonological awareness) and increase their vocabulary.
There are many creative ways you can support your child’s language skills through music or finger play songs with gestures and hand movements.
- Sing nursery rhymes together with gestures such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
- Sing a well-known song and then pause to let your child fill in the blanks such as “Twinkle, twinkle, little ______.”
- Create songs to sing during daily activities and routines.
- And many more.
- Praise your child for talking
What better way to support your child’s communication skills than to commend them for talking or for even trying to say new words. Positive praise and encouragement will help your child persevere. Compliment your child for calling something by the right name, using a new word, pronouncing a word correctly, saying a complex or grammatically correct sentence, and solving a problem on their own. Finally, keep on talking to each other and take advantage of daily experiences that allow your child to express, use, and learn language.