Talking to children

Life always makes us learn. Every day, children learn new things and grow by exploring, looking and, mostly, by acting like people they know. We help them walk on all fours, we give them our hands to show them how to walk, and we teach them how to go down the stairs on their bottoms by sitting on each step. We have the capacity to adapt to our child’s development by observing our own actions and by simplifying our message. We constantly give them an example that we invite them to follow. The same goes with your child’s language! They learn from their experiences with other people.

Naturally, when a child is only a few weeks old, we tend to look a lot at their language. We get close to them, we look at them, we make sounds to draw their attention, we modulate our voice, and we call their name… We clap our hands, we make simple syllabic repetitions like “gagaga” “papa”, and we use an appropriate language for a baby. It is possible and even essential to continue this stimulation as the child grows but without making it a heavy and strenuous task.

Repetition is essential in the development of language. By hearing a significant someone repeating the same sounds, the same words and the same sentences over and over and always in the same context, children eventually manage to repeat them.

In what follows, I will try to make your life easier by giving you simple tips and tricks that will stimulate language development on a daily basis, through things you can add to your routine, so it doesn’t seem like an additional chore.

I am sure that you will realize, reading this article, that you already do many things, without knowing, that are excellent ways to boost your child’s language. However, you may realize that in the midst of our busy life, we don’t leave much time for our children to speak.

Here are some attitudes and strategies that can help promote communication and to which you should pay attention to on a daily basis.

First, get down on your child’s level.
Lean towards them, sit them on the counter or on cushions, sit next to them on the floor or on the couch. It is much nicer to talk to someone when you can see their face. By speaking to your child at eye level, they will be in a better position to look up to you as a model because they will be able to look at your mouth and see how you place it to pronounce the sounds. That way, you will keep them focused and expect them to look at you. They will feel important because you are talking directly to them, and because you are paying attention to what they say.

Adjust your language.
Speak slowly, clearly. Use short and simple sentences without using baby talk. If I ask a three-year-old child: “Would you like to eat a good red apple that we picked yesterday?” I am not at their level. In general, it is recommended to keep your language simple yet slightly more complicated than what the child is normally capable of. For example, if the child usually expresses something with two words “Want juice!” you can say: “You want juice?” Feel free to change the tone of your voice.

This also applies to the overly fast or complicated requests that we make. Remember that it is very important to respect the child’s level and their development stage. For example, the sentence: “Come change your diaper my darling, we are going to your grandma’s house for dinner” would be far too complex for a three year old child. It contains too many elements.

Give them a chance to talk.
Wait for your child to finish their sentence before you tell them the corrected version. Give them enough time to tell you or show you what they want to say. Avoid meeting them halfway. Let your child begin conversations every day and add to it by asking questions or by commenting. Give them enough time to answer your questions. You must stay silent after asking a question or making a comment. For example, if they are looking out the window at their father leaving, do not say anything right away. Wait for them to start the conversation: “Daddy go”. You can rephrase:  “Daddy is leaving” and then you can add to the conversation by saying “Where is daddy going?” wait a bit and if they do not answer, you can say: “Daddy is leaving for work”.

This also applies when you ask your child to choose between two things. Give them time to answer.

Here’s a little tip: you can count a few seconds in your head before giving them the answer or before continuing the conversation. That way you allow them to reach the information before answering and you encourage them to pursue the conversation after your comment.

Verbalize what your child is going through, what they say and what they try to express with difficulty or non-verbally.
Your child points at the refrigerator for juice. Instead of giving them the juice right away, make them put their intention into words: “You want juice?” If your child is happy because they received a gift, they jump, smile, put words on what they are going through: “You are happy!”

Repeat what your child says and add to the discussion.
When your child is trying to communicate with you, it is important to repeat correctly what they tried to say. It will make them feel like you listened to them and understood what they meant. They will also hear the right model. They will want to try again. You can improve their vocabulary even while respecting their development level.

Here is an example. Your child comes in the house and says: “Mommy! Punchkin!” Get down on their level and give them the right model: “a pumpkin”. You can add to the discussion by saying: “You saw a pumpkin?” Give them some time to answer. If they go on and say, “yes” while pointing outside, you will be able to continue the conversation: “A pumpkin outside”, “You saw a pumpkin outside”. Since the child seems to find it difficult to say pumpkin, you should insist on the word “pumpkin” but without asking them to repeat it. Since the word “outside” does not seem to be part of their vocabulary, you could also insist on that word.

Put your action into words.
Talk about what you do, what your child does, your daily activities… Think aloud.

Talk to the first person and second person singular.
When you talk with your child, use “I” and “you” instead of using the third person singular. For example, instead of saying “Does Charles want milk? Mommy will give you some!” say “Would you like juice? I will give you some”.

Never forget that your child looks up to you as a model in their language development. Above all, never rush a child to speak if they are not ready.

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