Communication is one of the hallmarks of healthy childhood development. From forming close relationships with friends, to interacting with authority figures, to discovering our identities — healthy communication is one of the most important aspects of development in a child’s early years. Developing bad habits when it comes to their communication, can result in social and emotional problems later on in life. Not only that, but in today’s world, technology has led to more and more digital play instead of free play, which is why teaching kids to express themselves and appreciate how others express themselves has never been more important.
So, to help you develop healthy communication skills with your child, here are some tips to help little ones open up, develop confidence, speak their truth, and understand their peers.
Be present while talking
Bringing your full attention to your child is so important in encouraging their communication. Set aside specific time to talk during the day, such as at mealtime or at the end of the day. Avoid having distractions such as the TV on or your phone nearby, so you can just focus on talking with your little one, and they will know you are really listening. Be a great role model for them, showing active listening as well as good communication practices. This is also a great time to be open with them about your own feelings and thoughts, to further encourage them to share theirs.
Teach them nonverbal communication
There are many other ways to communicate in addition to words. Especially with babies or young children who aren’t able to talk yet, teaching them to use hand gestures and body language is a great way to develop communication skills early on. Use hand gestures yourself when speaking with them, and watch their body language to see what they are trying to tell you. Being in tune with their body language will help them know you are listening, and associating gestures with words will help develop their language skills as they grow. Going a step further and teaching baby sign language to children even as young as a few months old, is a great way to get a head start on communicating with your child!
Use open-ended statements
One of the most important things to do when your child is learning to communicate, is talking with them, not at them! Opening the door to more conversation is a great way to encourage your child to keep talking, while also showing them you really are listening and care about what they have to say. This means avoiding yes or no questions, and instead say things such as “Wow! That is so interesting, can you tell me more about that?” or, “That sounds so fun! What happened next?” When a child can see that someone is truly interested, they are more likely to communicate, helping to facilitate a two-way conversation.
Expand their vocabulary
Learning brand new words and ways of communicating is exciting and important for any age! Whether your little one is talking yet or not, hearing new words and sounds will help them get excited and exercise their mind. This can be anything from reading books, to watching television shows that teach about words, or using bigger words when you talk to them. For older children, try teaching them one new word each day, and talk with them about what it means and how to use it.
Engage in speaking activities
There are many ways to get your little one talking, and putting those communication skills into practice! Asking your child what they did that day at bedtime is a good way to practice reflection, and helps them learn descriptive words. You can also ask what their favorite part of that day was, to get more specific. Lists are also a fun way to practice new words! Try creating a game, whoever can list the most animals, colors, etc. wins. One of the best ways to practice communicating is having real conversations with people your child trusts. Try having them call a relative or friend to talk. And remember to always be patient with your child, and don’t give up when they are having trouble articulating a word!
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