Headstart for Life

5 Communication Means To Try With Your Kids and Possible Breakdowns

It’s my pleasure to share another HeadStart post! Hopefully, you’ll learn and enjoy as you read along.

Communication is the exchange of thoughts, ideas and messages across individuals. People partaking in this process exhibit listening, responding and speaking skills. We commonly communicate verbally but some may communicate in different ways. Although it is not the common way, it doesn’t make the person’s idea any less. Imagine how frustrating it is for some to have an idea but is unable to express it. Sometimes, it’s more than being stubborn/lazy, these children may have underlying concerns about muscle weakness or motor coordination. A common example is verbal dyspraxia which we discussed previously, you may want to check it at http://headstartforlife.com.sg/beyondtherapy/speechtherapy/my-child-has-verbal-dyspraxia-what-does-that-mean/.

Considering the needs of our children, we should think about the best mode of communication to assist them. it is pertinent to examine several factors in choosing, such as the motor skills of the communicator (Will he/she be able to tap/reach?), financial considerations, engagement/eagerness of the communicator (Does he/she seem interested with it?) and the cooperation of the people around the communicator. We’re sharing some of the communication means that we’ve tried with our children in helping them turn into effective and happier communicators:

1. Nonverbal Cues

Although it may be subtle, some children may actually communicate a lot through their body movements, depth of stare, facial expressions and tone of voice. We must watch out and learn to read such cues.


2. Signing

Some organisations, institutions and countries have created specific hand signals and symbols to help people communicate. Examples of which include Makaton, Signing Exact English and Singapore Sign Language. Children, adolescents and adults, along with their families learn together to ensure effective understanding and exchanging of messages.


3. Gestures

Signing usually requires extensive training, which some may not be ready to do so. Families and caregivers may create their simplified hand signals and symbols to help a family member communicate. Usually, it entails the basic objects and commonly performed actions such as eat, drink, sleep, toilet, etc.


4. Technology

Technology has also aided communication through the development of gadgets, software and applications. In our practice, we’ve used and guided children in communicating through tablet applications such as Speak for Yourself and Proloquo2Go. These applications use pictures, to which you can tap and a speaker to verbalize the communicator’s needs and wants.


5. Picture Exchange Communication System

Indeed, pictures can paint a thousand words! We’ve seen children eager to communicate through pictures. They will give the picture of their desired item (e.g. toy, food) and the communication partner will give the actual item in return. This system comes in several levels that aim to teach the communicator various aspects of scanning, gazing/eye contact, proximity, generalisation, exchanging, etc.

Communication Breakdowns

In our search for the best means of communication, we must also be mindful of how to keep the communication process engaging. Throughout our experience of interacting with children, we have been enlightened on ways that may disengage them in communicating with us. We are sharing some to help you be enlightened too! Here are some reasons why a child may not communicate with us:

1. No reason.

If everything and everyone is accessible to our children, they wouldn’t have any more reason to initiate communication with us. Most of the time, they would rather do things themselves since they are used to having their way of obtaining things so they don’t see the need to communicate. Therefore, gradual changes may be necessary to be done especially at home. such as placing items in a container, shifting the location of his/her commonly used belongings, etc.

2. Too many questions.

Sometimes, in our desire to engage our children, we ask way too many questions! Children may see you as an “interrogator” rather than a communicative partner. Sure, you may ask questions but balance it with teaching by labeling/describing the event and/or things. Also, try to ask questions that are open-ended (what, who, where, why questions) rather than closed-ended which are answerable by simple yes/no.


3. I have a spokesperson.

Parents, siblings and friends are incredible supporters to children. They want to help the child communicate by speaking on their behalf at times. However, if it happens for most parts, the child may not realise his/her opportunity. They would wait and always expect someone to speak for them. Give them a chance to think and speak, offer support only when needed.

4. I’m pressured.

Just in the case of adults, children struggle to think and convey their thoughts effectively when faced with a stressful situation. Make it a practice to provide your child with sufficient “thinking time” during communication routines. A couple of seconds, between 5 – 10 seconds may work wonders! Let your child appreciate you as a patient communicative partner rather than a demanding one.


Communication is indeed a major part of our everyday tasks. It does seem natural and easy-going for us. However, some may find it very challenging and demanding task. Thus, let’s do our part in reaching out and determining how we can be of help. We should be their communicative partner and not an interpreter nor an interrogator. Also, learning and facilitating possible means and strategies would surely be a great start!


"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Anna

Anna finds special significance in continuous learning through reading articles, observing adult-child interactions and communicating with professionals, children and parents.

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