Welcome back HeadStart Beyond Therapy readers!
Communication is hard for every one – for adults, kids, and sometimes even for pets. And for most parents, especially parents who have children with speech and communication difficulties, it is the most challenging task in the world!
By now you might have heard and read numerous tips and strategies in helping your child improve his/her speech, language, cognitive and behaviour skills. You may have been doing all these things for few months now but somehow, something doesn’t seem to be connecting when you are trying to engage your child in conversation. So, you scratch your head and ask what am I doing wrong?
You may have been doing everything right, but at the same time you may also be making some mistakes along the way. This is not uncommon for most parents and caregivers, including me!
Let’s get into the details and avoid these 5 conversational pitfalls in our daily conversations with our preschoolers.
When we talk too much, children tune out. This can be very tricky for most of us. We all make this common mistake. As a speech therapist, I have to be more conscious about the amount of time I spent talking “over” my students. Perhaps, you’ve been told by other parents, teachers and maybe even your child’s speech therapist that the best way for children to learn is by talking to them. Now, you started talking to your child but you realized that he just doesn’t seem to be interested. You noticed that your child walks away from you every single time you try to talk to him/her. What could be the problem?
Check if you are trying to take too much of the talking, manipulating the whole conversation scenario. As excited as we are to give our children “information talk”, always give our children time to respond in between our conversations. This is how taking turns happen. That means, you don’t have to do all the talking. Avoid doing most of the talking or telling children what to do and how to do it. Give him/her the opportunity to respond to your questions, instructions, comments or reactions. Sometimes, taking turns in communication doesn’t even have to involve talking. It may just be a gesture, an eye contact, a glance, a shrug on the shoulder or just even a sigh. We do not have to be a broken record all the time! Learn to pause…
We may have been caught up too much in this fast pace world that sometimes we need a little smacking in the head, to slow us down. More often than not, this is somehow reflected in the way we talk to our children. Sometimes, we forget that we are talking to young kids! Talking too fast doesn’t set a good example to improve your child’s communication. Children who are struggling in their communication skills find it difficult to process auditory information from their environment, including spoken words. So, slow down. Keep your words simple, short and direct. Think “turtle talk”.
Most of the time we have the habit of looming over our children when talking to them. That they are forced to tilt their heads too high just to meet our gaze. Most adults, talk “over” their children, not bothering to sit down or crouch down to meet their gaze.
I would like to emphasize here the value of “engagement”. You are more likely to be successful in engaging your child in a conversation, when you are within his/her “window of communication” – this is an imaginary box of space around your child’s head, where you are most likely able to get his/her attention during conversation. So the next time you talk to your child, go down the floor, meet his/her eye-gaze and be close enough for him/her to notice you.
In the learning process, giving cues to children who are struggling to learn a concept is empirical. As parents, it is natural to want to help our kids as much as possible. Nobody wants to see their child having a hard time! However, giving too much help may not be beneficial for him/her. Cues are given in order to facilitate a skill that our child is trying to learn. As you move forward, these cues are faded away, to encourage independence. Cues are given according to a hierarchy. Yes! There are stages of giving cues. To be more familiar with the cueing hierarchy, click here.
Giving cues is not a linear process. There will be a lot of step ups and downs as you are teaching your child. And that is completely acceptable. That’s the process of learning. However, one of the most common mistakes that we do as adults, is giving too much help to our kids, more than necessary. Learn when to give cues and when not to. Children will only learn spontaneity, when they are given the enough opportunity to do things themselves. So, don’t be afraid that he/she won’t learn if you don’t give him/her cues. Just be there to support him/her. Challenge him/her enough but don’t be too demanding. Help him/her enough, but not too much.
Nobody likes to feel that they are being bombarded with questions. Communication is not an interrogation process. As parents, sometimes we are too eager for our children to learn new skills. So we take in the role of a “tester” by asking too many questions to check what our children has learned. Remember, children learn when they are having fun! And when they feel that they are overwhelmed with questions, learning does not happen.
Be sure to be mindful of these actions when teaching your kids. It takes a lot practice and self – monitoring to improve awareness. Happy teaching!
And come back to HeadStart for Life and Beyond Therapy soon for more great reads!
Pepper, J and Weitzman E. (2004) It Takes Two to Talk. Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication