You Don’t Say!

Actually, you do say, and explain, and answer, and tell, and talk, talk, talk with your children.

As we discussed last time, much of your message is conveyed through non-verbal means, which means parents must be sensitive to the components of non-verbal communication. But talk is also extremely important, and there are some key items to consider about this communication.

Talk is part of the invisible glue that creates the first attachment between parent and child. Babies’ reactions show that they recognize their parents’ voices almost immediately—no doubt having listened to them so much from inside the uterus—and they continue to react with delight when spoken to.

They listen intently, and after a few months focus their eyes on adult lips as they speak, as if trying to figure out how to reproduce those same sounds. The continued benefits of listening to parental speech show up in the classic research done by Hart and Risley, where the higher number of adult words spoken over time correlates with an equally high child vocabulary—an obvious benefit for social and academic success. Children who are spoken to a lot become adept at speech.

While we recognize that talk is good, let’s zero in on specifics that can make communication even more effective.

  1. With young children, simplify your speech so that key words are not lost in a sea of words. Adult speech should be patterned after the child’s, with slight expansions.
    That is, if children are speaking in simple sentences with four or five words, adult sentences should contain just a word or two more.

    Notice that your children don’t tend to use a lot of clauses, such as “When I have finished the dishes, then we can play ball.” All the child really hears (or says) is: “We can play ball.”

    Emphasize key words for new speakers, often saying them last, since these are the words that children attend to.

  2. Sometimes use just one or two word reminders, rather than whole sentences that can sound a lot like nagging. (Even the youngest children learn to tune out floods of repetitious words, and children who tune out aren’t getting the benefits of your speech.) So, “Quietly,” may be quite enough to remind the older child that the baby is sleeping.
  3. Remember that giving children new words is a gift that they will savor; so let them enjoy words, subtly providing a definition or example of meaning.

    After all, that is how vocabulary expands.

    Also, this is what reading good children’s literature provides—so don’t be tempted to skip or change those words.

  4. Remember that you are the experienced speaker and that your child is the one who needs language practice, so provide lots of opportunities to encourage speech.

    Experts find, when studying children’s speech delays, that often there has been no need for a child to speak, with the adults or older siblings speaking so much, or not opening doors for communication with lots of open-ended questions. So ask the what, why, how questions, and then listen to the answers.

    An important part of helping children’s talk develop is showing that someone is listening. So sometimes they talk, and you truly don’t say!

  5. And one last reminder: Children don’t learn to speak from television or from hearing you talk on your cell phone, so turn off the technology! Now who’s being repetitious?

© Growing Child 2013 Please feel free to forward this article to a friend.

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