“My 5-year-old son does not like talking to me or responding to my questions. He talks only when he wants something from me.” If you are facing similar challenges as a caregiver, SPD’s speech therapist, Ridhima Batra, provides some useful tips to help you engage your child in conversation.
What is a Conversation?
A conversation is an interaction between two individuals with the purpose of building relationships, sharing one’s interests or learning new information. It is important that both parties take turns to speak. A conversation goes back and forth with every turn being a response to the previous one. Typically, children learn the rules of conversation by taking part in everyday conversations with adults around them.
STRATEGIES TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR CHILD
1. Communication Can Start Even before the Child Learns to Use Words
Conversations with children can begin even before they start using words. Before children learn how to talk, they use other ways to initiate a conversation, such as
- looking at the adult
- pointing at something
- doing an action
- making a sound
When a child does any of these actions, parents should try to guess what the child is trying to say and continue the conversation by using words. Here’s an example:
Tom: Pah (Tom starts a conversation by pointing to his spilled juice and making a sound)
Mum: Uh-oh! The juice spilled. (Mum continues the conversation by talking about the spill)
2. Select Appropriate Materials
- The material or topic chosen to start a conversation should be age-appropriate. For instance, 8-year-old Ben did not respond when his mother talked to him about the story of Sherlock Holmes as he had no interest in the story. Ben would have responded better if his mother spoke about topics like robots, which are more age-appropriate.
- Let the child choose the material. When children are given a chance to choose, they would be more involved in the conversation following it. For example, you can try to ask the child whether he wants to play with Lego or a toy car. Once he selects a toy, you can continue the conversation based on his selection to increase his interest in the conversation.
3. Use Daily Routines to Have Conversations with your Child
Most conversations take place naturally when engaging in daily routines at home, such as meal and shower time. When parents talk to their children while engaging in everyday activities, children will learn words and phrases associated with the routines naturally, without the need for any special toys or materials. For John, he learnt to say “soap” because his mother repeated the word during shower time daily.
Mum: Let’s put soap on hands, now soap on legs, and soap on tummy.
4. Use an Interesting Voice
Children enjoy it when adults speak to them in a lively tone. For instance,
- Repeating some words – “Time to brush your teeth, brush, brush, brush”
- Making certain sounds – “Here comes the dog, woof, woof, woof”
5. Sustaining the Interaction
To keep the conversation going with your child, you can use these simple strategies:
- Follow the child’s lead: While talking, children often make spontaneous comments about what interests them. You can follow your child’s lead and continue the conversation by talking about the child’s interest. When Sarah started talking about the bird in the illustration during story time, following Sarah’s lead, her mother did not continue the story but started talking about the bird instead.
- Pause: After you have said something or asked a question, always pause to signal to the child that it is his or her turn to respond. The pause should be long enough to give the child sufficient time to think through a response.
- Repeat and expand: Children often use simple words or phrases while talking. You can help to expand your child’s communicative attempts into meaningful words or phrases by using the correct grammar and adding new information into the sentences.
Take for example:
Child: Go zoo.
Dad: Yes, we are going to the zoo.
Child: See elephants.
Dad: We can see the elephants. They are big and strong.
6. Conversations Should be Fun and Not Meant to Test the Child
Children do not like it when parents ask them multiple questions just to check whether they remember what has been taught. To start or maintain the interaction with your child, remember to keep the conversation fun!
- You can have conversations with your child, even before your child learns to talk
- Always select an age-appropriate topic or toy to speak to your child
- Use daily routines to have conversations with your child
- Talk in an interesting tone
- Pause long enough to allow the child to respond and expand the child’s communicative attempts into meaningful words or phrases
- Conversations should be fun and not meant to test the child’s knowledge
Conversations with young children can make a big difference in their language development. So go ahead and have a conversation with your child while keeping in mind the above tips. Have fun!
- It’s Never Too Early to Have Conversations with Your Child, The Hanen Centre
- A Practical Guide to Quality Interaction with Children who have a Hearing Loss, Morag Clark, 2007