Parents start talking to their children the day they are born, and sometimes even sooner! As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher, and you have likely spent thousands of hours in conversation with your child. This is one way to help your child develop effective communication skills.
Language and effective communication skills are integral not only to children’s learning but also to their self-expression and development of social relationships. The foundations for these skills are established at birth and are built throughout the early childhood years. The development of communication and language skills are best fomented in the context of trusting and responsive relationships. If your child can communicate effectively, it can help them keep safe.
Communication is a child’s vehicle of learning. Composer and conductor John Powell stated that “Communication works for those who work at it.”
Since children with strong communication skills feel more confident and are able both to understand and to be understood better, parents and teachers should help children do the “work” that is needed to become strong, confident communicators and learners.
Learning to communicate is a unique process for every child and family. Nonetheless, there are steps that parents and teachers can take to inspire communication confidence.
Speak with your child in a clear and simple manner, and make sure to take time to listen. Make your conversations with your child a two-way street. Ask questions that require your child to make and express a choice. These interactions will help your child build confidence as a good communicator.
Say things like, “I’m going to bring this umbrella today because it looks like it might rain soon,” or “Look at that bright red watermelon! Let’s buy some for dessert tonight.” This type of speech helps children connect words with objects and actions. You can also ask your child to explain what he or she is doing.
Recognizing the non-verbal cues of teachers and peers can help your child become a better communicator and improve his or her social skills. You can say something like, “Casey is covering her face because she’s afraid when you throw the ball so hard. Try to throw it more softly so she will want to keep playing catch with you.”
Past research has indicated that children develop stronger language skills when children are provided with high levels of language stimulation during the first years of life. Ask children questions, respond to their vocalizations and communication efforts, and engage in positive talk with children. All of these measures help children to understand and use more words.
Songs and musical activities have also been linked with improvements in children’s communication skills. Learn new songs, or sing and dance to familiar favorites. They increase their vocabulary and communication confidence while having a great time!
Engage in a variety of responsive reading activities.As well as exposing children to language through books and stories, ask complex questions about stories and expand on children’s responses. Research shows that children learn more vocabulary when involved in discussions about books. Ask children to discuss their reactions to events in a story, to think about what they might do if they were storybook characters, or even to create new story endings. This responsive approach to reading allows children’s expressive language to develop at a faster pace than listening to stories more passively.
The more words that caring, trusted adults speak to children, the better language skills children develop. Also, children talk more often when teachers model language for them. Parents and teachers alike can serve to build up children’s communication confidence to get them ready for school and for a lifetime of learning and friendship.
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