My son’s first word was “fish.” He was seven months old. When my daughter was not even two, she tested at the level of a three year old for her expressive communication. In short, both my kids are talkers. Not only are they talkers, but they have good communication skills. They speak clearly, they verbalize thoughts and feelings, and they have an impressive vocabulary.
How can I teach my kids good communication skills?
I won’t lie. I’m not a magician, and I can’t take credit for my kids’ accomplishments. They were born with the ability to be articulate, thank goodness. All I did was help them to develop that ability.
Let me tell you what I did. These steps were written specifically for guiding young children in their language development, but there are some good communication skills that are beneficial for people of all ages. (Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a speech therapist. I’m a mom who noticed some tricks that worked for my kids.)
1. When they were babies, I did not talk to them in “baby talk.” Did I ooh and ahh and use a goofy voice? Of course I did! Did I tell them they were the cutest little babies with the sweetest little cheekies? Yes, and then I pretended to nibble those cheeks. But did I goo goo and gaga and make indiscernible noises? Not really. When I did, it was on purpose. I’d say the same sound over and over again, teaching them how to imitate sounds and the way I moved my mouth. Baba was a sound for them to practice, not a bottle or blanket.
I used the sweet baby voice with my kids, but I spoke normal words. I talked to my kids all the time. All. The. Time. “Let’s get your pants on. Ok, right foot, now the left. And up we go, over the bum. You’re so wiggly today. OK, should we go see what to make for lunch?” And when my child gurgled, I’d respond as if they’d contributed to the conversation with real words. “Really? I was thinking the same thing.” Or “And then what happened?” They learned the natural flow of a conversation. The lilt of the sentence that ends in a question, answering the question, and getting a response in return. It’s a vital part of communication! Listening, responding, listening again. It’s a pattern that is so important in communicating, especially the listening part.
Read to them. Sing to them. Often. They learn so much about the rhythm of speech that way!
2. I speak clearly. Or at least I try to, anyway. Kids will speak how you speak. They’ll imitate exactly what you say, how you say it, complete with tones and inflections. If you drop the last letter of a word, like hangin’, sayin’, goin’, playin’, guess what your kid will say? If you combine words, like gotta, dunno, gonna, guess what your child will learn to say? And for Pete’s sake, let’s say “yours” and “for,” not “yers” and “fur.” Annunciate. It’s good practice always, not just when you want to teach a child to speak clearly.
When my kids start whining or talking baby talk, I explain, “I can’t understand you.” And they immediately speak in a clear voice.
3. Children understand a lot more than we give them credit for. Use a wide vocabulary. They’ll pick it up. Here are some examples of words I use regularly with my kids and have since they were little: extensively, gratitude, immensely, patient, humongous, thoughtful, appropriate, modest, reverent, frustrated, discouraged, enthusiastic, persistent, respectful, protein, technology, manners, appreciate, synonyms.
Is a kid going to understand what you say the first time when you use a big word? No. But if you tell them what it means, they’ll get it. “Please be patient. That means, please wait nicely.” “Be persistent! That means, don’t give up. Keep trying!” You’ll have to say it a few times, but they’ll eventually get it. And you know what? They’ll use the words they hear and understand. Instead of throwing a fit, they can identify what they feel, and then tell you. “I’m so frustrated!”
Today in the store, my four-year-old said “aerosol cheese” and “polymer gel.” He’d heard both words in books, but he knew enough to use them properly. At lunch, my son asked me if bananas were good for our bodies. I said yes, they have lots of potassium, and I explained what potassium does. Then two-year-old daughter told me two words and said, “They’re synonyms!” True story.
4. When a young child, especially, tries to communicate with you, get down so you’re eye-level with them (if you can) so you can watch their mouth when they speak. If you don’t understand, ask them to repeat themselves. If you still don’t understand, play Mad Gab! Repeat back to them what you heard and ask them if that’s right. Do it enough times (about four or five) and you’ll usually get it. Once you do, help them practice saying it clearly. But, if you still don’t get it, tell them you don’t understand and apologize. Ask them if they can show you. Usually they can. Once you figure it out, again, help them say it properly. If you don’t get it, just apologize and leave it at that. They appreciate the effort and their attention spans are short enough they’ll move on to something else soon enough.
5. I look my kids in the eye when I talk to them, and I look them in the eye when they talk to me. When they talk, I encourage them to look at me. Eye contact is an important part in good communication. It also helps them focus on what they’re saying without getting distracted. That’s a consistent issue for our four-year-old. It also tells the person we’re talking to that they have our undivided attention, and that their important enough to listen to.
6. One of the most important parts of communication is listening. Listen when they talk to you! They’ll learn that what they have to say is important. They’ll listen to you because they know you listen to them. It’s hard. It’s really hard, especially when they’re two, three, four, five, etc and they want to talk to you about the silliest things. But if you show them it’s important now, they’ll remember that when they’re older. *cough – teenagers cough* We’ll get it wrong sometimes, but we’re not perfect.
Are your kids older? It’s never too late to start working on their/your communication skills. Use big words. Don’t know any? Pick up a dictionary, pick one and use it. Speak clearly. Make eye contact. Listen.
What are some good communication skills that I missed? Any tips you use with your own children?