The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most empowering skills a child will learn.
We all know the passionate and demonstrative frustration a toddler feels as they are learning how to impact the world around them. Many meltdowns occur as a result of our children trying to learn how to communicate their needs and desires. All too often we forget that they are LEARNING to communicate. They are not mini adults. They have not yet learnt how to convey what they want politely. They will say things like, “Go away!” Which might simply mean that they need some space.
They are doing just fine if they are using these basic and rudimentary means to communicate. I’m not advocating that we embrace or even ignore these phrases that sound rude to our adult ears. When my kids shout out what sounds like a demanding order, I’ll say something like, “Wow, you must be really thirsty! You could say “I’m sooo thirsty, can I please have a drink?””
They will eventually hone these newfound abilities and learn higher level skills such as diplomacy and politeness as they mature.
Our first priorities should be…
* to teach our children that what they say matters to us.
* to respond to their attempts to communicate – no matter how seemingly inappropriate or messy.
* to allow them to feel empowered as they communicate their needs and desires.
From the very beginning we can foster our child’s language development and respond to their very first attempts at communication.
Most babies and kids love eye contact. They feel connected to you and affirmed.
From your baby’s most early sounds and gurgles, you can respond. Answer them. Take turns in conversation. Let them hold and explore the container you’re putting back in the fridge when they grunt and reach out for it.
Chat throughout the day
Chat about what’s happening now. About what’s happening next. Where you’re going. Who might be there. Immerse them in every day language.
You can start straight away with basic signs. Sign language supports language development, it won’t delay or replace verbal language in any way.
It also helps minimise frustration when they are still learning words. It’s pretty empowering to be able to communicate things like “more”, “finish”, “drink”, “milk”, “stop”, “yuck” etc even if they can’t yet articulate the words.
About them, about the day you’ve just shared, about when they were born, about when they were tiny babies and so on. Kids love stories, especially ones about themselves and their world! Stories develop a love of language and ultimately of reading.
Almost as good as those made up, personal stories. Again, you can’t start reading to your child too soon.
Look at pictures and photos together
Talk about what you observe. As they grow a little older play guessing games with objects/pictures/photos. Our girls love giving and receiving clues using picture cards.
As you chat throughout the day, label things. Things like body parts, household items, actions, people and so on.
Sing known songs, make songs up, just sing! Singing is a great way to encourage language. It’s also a fun way to encourage cooperation and to keep everyday tasks fun. We sing about pretty much anything… brushing teeth, putting clothes on, climbing into the car.
Instead of insisting upon social niceties, be a positive role model. Our children observe and notice everything. They will learn gratitude and remorse as they are developmentally able and as a result of your modeling. When we enforce words such as “please”, “thank you” and “sorry”, children learn to SAY them, but not to necessarily MEAN them. I want my children to feel a motivation that stems from an intrinsic, authentic place. The alternative is extrinsic motivation that seeks to please people and to say the “right” things without necessarily meaning those things.
Communication skills are essential for healthy relationships and success throughout life. We can teach our children that communication is a powerful and effective tool. Consequently, they will more likely experience success, form healthy relationships, and develop a positive self image.