Talk with Me: Enhancing Communication through Natural Family Routines
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Peter’s mother wanted nothing more than to have a conversation with her child. Unfortunately, every time she tried to approach him, he would either continue playing with his Legos or grunt something and quickly leave the area. She was animated and positive, but nothing seemed to engage him.
As parents, we want to hear about our children’s days, talk about issues of importance, and simply connect with our kids. Unfortunately, sometimes the ways in which we approach and respond to children inadvertently impede conversation. In order for a child to want to talk, the communication needs to be relatively easy and mutually beneficial. To achieve these goals and promote more positive and prolonged interaction, we offer the following tips:
Build daily routines that will encourage communication. These routines can include a) daily chores such as walking the dog, putting away groceries, taking a bath, or folding laundry or b) play time involving turn-taking games like building a tower, dressing dolls, or playing chase. During these routines, it is important to slow down and truly focus on your child (i.e., putting down phone and turning off the TV and computer).
Focus on your child’s interests and preferred activities. Focusing on your child means watching what he or she is doing and meeting your child there. For example, you might notice that your child is walking very briskly, looking at the print on a package, splashing or pouring water, or smelling the clean clothes. You might see that your child makes certain expressions and displays of emotion to indicate his or her preferences. These actions are cues for a child’s interests and therefore an opportunity to encourage communication.
Use environmental supports to facilitate interaction. Environmental supports include visual calendars (e.g., of daily schedules or upcoming events), picture books that include favorite items, or choice menus that display options for activities or treats. Additionally, you may consider organizing and limiting the amount of toys and periodically rotating them to encourage communication and interest. Strategies such as these create structure and may reduce stress associated with unclear expectations or distractions that may interfere with communication.
Minimize demands by commenting rather than asking questions. There is a saying that “questions go to the head, while comments go to the heart”. A good habit to encourage communication is to reduce the amount of questions and increase comments during an interaction. For example, you might narrate what you see your child doing rather than asking him or her to describe or answer questions about their activities. If your child is playing with cars, instead of asking the color, type, or which one goes the fastest, note what your child is doing with the car (e.g., “You are driving up, up, up. Uh-oh! Crash!”).
Try to make talking fun by responding in a positive way. A critical idea regarding communication is that it should be enjoyable – not work – for both the parent and child. To encourage your child to engage, respond positively to all attempts to communicate by playing and taking turns. This may mean saying words back in a silly or enthusiastic manner or engaging in a physical game your child enjoys.