Conversation is a huge part of our everyday lives and is one of the main ways in which we communicate with each other. Today, a huge number of children start school at a serious disadvantage because of underdeveloped communication abilities. We need to help our children develop good communication skills.
The tips here will be useful to your child whatever their age and whether or not they are communicating at the same level as their peers.
1. Time to talk
Generally talk about things as you do them: comment on what you are doing, what you can see, hear or feel and about what is going to happen next.
Spend some special time talking with your child every day, preferably without distractions. Let them talk about school or their play, tell them about what you have been doing or discuss and involve them in plans for the future.
Try to make TV time a shared time - sit down with your child to watch programmes that are for children of that age.
Listen carefully to your child and give them time to finish speaking. Conversation is a two-way process. Always respond in some way when your child says something. Take turns to speak.
Gain your child's attention before speaking or asking a question. It is better to say "Tim, please come over here", than to say "Come over here, Tim" because then your child will be focussed once you call their name. Encourage them to look at you when they speak, or if they find this difficult, in your direction.
4. Time to respond
Give your child time to think about what you have said and formulate a response. Children often need time to put their thoughts together before answering - as we do.
5. Build on what your child says
When talking with your child, use sentences that are roughly one word longer than the sentences your child uses. If they are using two words, you use three e.g. if your child says "look, car", you could say "look, red car". By doing this you'll be signalling that you've heard what they've said and modelling the next stage of development. This will help extend your child's sentences as they can hear what the structures for longer sentences are like. This applies to whichever stage your child is at.
Praise your child's efforts to speak even if it is not perfect. If your child says something incorrectly, say it back the right way rather than correcting him, e.g. If your child says "I done the puzzle", you can say "Wow! You did the puzzle. Well done!" Children are more likely to change what they say in the future when they have worked it out for themselves.
7. Use the senses
Use all the senses to help learn new words. For example, if there are fruit or vegetables your child cannot name, encourage them to feel, smell and taste them as well as saying the name.
8. Ask questions
Ask questions but try to use ones that will challenge your child to think - ask 'why' and 'how' rather than questions that just need an answer 'yes', 'no' or a single word answer. Try not to ask too many questions as they can block the flow of natural conversation.
9. Give instructions in order
When giving instructions, say them in the sequence you want them to be done, e.g. "Wash your hands then come and sit down" rather than "Come and sit down but wash your hands first." Limit the number of instructions you give at one time.
10. Use the full range of expression
Speak in a lively, animated voice and use gestures and facial expressions to back up your words. You will be giving more clues about what your words mean. You will also be demonstrating the importance of non-verbal communication.
More information and resources (some free!) are available on various websites, such as: www.talkingpoint.org.uk, www.ican.org.uk and www.afasic.org.uk.
The parent section of the Talking Point website is full of hints and tips, fact sheets, books and articles to help you when your child is learning to talk. These are a few examples:
Ready Steady Talk activity book
Moving up to pre-school is a big change for any child, and you play a vital role in helping your child to develop the speech and language skills they need. Ready Steady Talk is a fun-filled activity pack developed by I CAN's speech and language specialists and comes highly recommended by early years professionals.
This DVD and the posters that come with it were developed with the support of Openreach and explain how you can give children a great start in life by helping them grow into good communicators.
The Communication Cookbook
The Communication Cookbook is a resource book of activities to support children's language and communication. Developed by I CAN and the BT Betterworld Campaign, it focuses on five essential ingredients that support children's communication skills, and contains simple recipes to help parents and teachers to develop these in skills in children aged four to six. The five essential ingredients are: Attention and Listening, Vocabulary, Building Sentences, Story Telling and Conversations.