When a child encounters a communication challenge, we most often focus on changing the child. “How can we get the child to speak more?” “How can we get the child to respond to us when we talk?” “Why aren’t they making progress?” However, we forget that to have a conversation, it takes two.
We also need to examine our own communication style and habits:
-Are we waiting long enough for our child to process and respond to what we’ve said before we repeat ourselves continuously?
-Are we paying attention to subtle nonverbal cues?
-Are we only asking questions instead of modeling statements and comments?
-Are we shouting to them across the room and wondering why they’re not following through?
If we’ve answered, ‘no,’ to any of these questions, then we have some changes to make on our end. Here are some changes you can implement to become a better communication partner:
Wait time is a non-negotiable for being an effective communication partner!
▫️After modeling a new word or phrase a few times for your child, WAIT! Give them an opportunity to attempt the new word or phrase.
▫️While singing a familiar song that your child hears a lot (nursery rhyme or popular radio song), leave out a line, give an expectant WAIT expression and give your child a chance to fill in! If they don’t get it the first time, that’s ok. Give them a simple prompt or cue to get started and understand that when you WAIT, it’s their turn!
▫️Decide on your WAIT word. This will be a 3-4 syllable word (elephant🐘, helicopter🚁, banana🍌, watermelon🍉, etc). Then here’s the hard part, count 5 of those (in your head)! 1 🍌, 2,🍌and up to 5🍌! That’s considered enough wait time–but for some kiddos they may need up to 30 seconds of wait time.
Watch your child trying to communicate or listening to you. If they are moving their body do they stop an action after you say something? Maybe this is them processing what you’ve said. When you ask them if they want ice cream, do you see them smile? When you ask them if they want brussel sprouts, do you see them make a ‘yuck’ face? This is still communication. Interpret their nonverbal communication and provide a model. “Oh! You DO want ice cream!,” “Yuck! You don’t want brussel sprouts!”
Don’t ask so many questions! This is tough to change, but just becoming aware of the number of questions you ask is a great start. When we are only asking questions, we assume our child knows how to answer them. However, if we are never modeling comments or statements, they haven’t had enough modeling of how to actually answer the questions we are asking.
Asking too many questions can also add a lot of pressure. When children experience communication difficulties, this can be discouraging to not be able to answer questions. It can also feel like they’re constantly being tested. Try out modeling declarative statements or comments instead of asking questions.
Here are some examples:
~Instead of, “What color is that truck?” let’s try,“The truck is red.”
~Instead of, “Are you hungry?” (when the child is obviously trying to get in the fridge) try, “Let’s eat!”
~Instead of, “Is it yummy?” let’s try, “That’s so yummy!”
Get on their level. If you’re having a hard time communicating with your child, let’s try some positioning changes. If your child is playing on the floor, get down on the floor with them before trying to engage with them. Like really get down on the floor…if they’re lying down, you lay too! If you’re on the floor you can even sit them up higher than you. Kiddos love being higher than us! Put them up on the couch while you’re on the floor. This face to face, less intimidating option can be helpful! If you’re able to supervise closely, let your kiddo sit on a table or counter while you stand. Sing a song this way!
There are lots of different ways we can create more positive and productive communication interactions with our children without having to change what they’re doing!
For more information about both virtual and in-person services, you can visit communicationblooms.org.
You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org