It takes 10 minutes to do almost anything with a child: wake up and get dressed, eat a meal, get in the car, go shopping, get ready for bed, etc. You can maximize communication with your child in ANY DAILY ACTIVITY you already do by following my “Rule of TEN”. Try one of the T…E…N suggestions each day or each week DURING ONE ACTIVITY (for example bathtime, but it could be getting in the car, helping during dressing, at a meal, etc.) to maximize communication with your child.
Take Turns Talking
Kids need to practice answering and asking questions, telling information, describing, giving their opinion, etc. are important skills needed to be a flexible, spontaneous and independent communicator.
DAILY ACTIVITY SUGGESTION
An easy strategy to help your child practice these skills is to pick a daily activity (bathtime for example, but it could be any time) and try to ASK NO (ZERO) QUESTIONS! You can talk all you want, but for the duration of that activity, do NOT ask a question. This strategy helps you, as the stronger communicator, pull back on support and allows your child to practice a new role in the conversation or interaction you are sharing.
By increasing your child’s role flexibility and number of ideas/turns shared in a conversation, you can help him/her:
• Increase independence in starting and maintaining conversations with others.
• Increase your child’s persistence and fend off “learned helplessness” (i.e., the child’s sense that s/he is not “good” at communicating with other) in conversation.
Engage with your Eyes
We use eye contact while we are talking and while we are listening to show that we are paying attention and to be sure that our communication partner is paying attention to us. In a sense, eye contact is used to “check in” with our communication partner. In a typical conversation, people will begin by looking at one another and check in with at least a glance as the conversation continues. In so doing, the communication partners notice nonverbal and verbal cues that the other is sending. Some studies indicate that greater than 90% of the information provided in a conversation is nonverbal. Even if we agreed on a more conservative estimate of 50%, you can see that if your child does not use eye contact to start a conversation and to periodically check in, s/he is missing a significant amount of information that his/her partner is relaying. Many children with language disorders have underlying auditory processing issues and relative visual-learning strengths.
DAILY ACTIVITY SUGGESTION
An easy strategy to help your child practice using his/her eyes to engage is what I call the “Gumby” Maneuver. In this strategy, you move your body to make eye contact as easy as possible for your child. That means bring your child up to your eye-level or get down to his/hers. By moving your body so that your child “happens” to look at you as you interact, you are highlighting the pattern that we show we are interested/paying attention by checking in with our eyes.
By increasing your child’s use of eye contact you can help him/her:
• Be perceived by others as a more attentive listener.
• Increase comprehension of the conversational topics by helping your child notice more nonverbal (visual) signals sent in a conversation.
The “power of the pause” is something that any strong communicator can recognize, but may not have thought about prior to encountering someone with communication difficulties. If you are having a conversation with someone and they just……….stop talking, (even if for just a few seconds), or if the person finishes what they are saying and then leaves a long, uncomfortable pause, you, as a strong communicator, notice that something needs to be attended to in that conversation. You might offer your own insight, ask the person if s/he is ok, etc. You notice that a “communication breakdown” has occurred. The pause signaled it. For example, imagine two children are playing with pretend people talking and sharing turns with the toys when, one child says, “Can I have the blue car?” and the second child does not answer. There is a long pause and the second child still does not answer and continues to play. If the first child notices the odd pause, he will eventually take matters into his own hands by grabbing the car or asking again.
Many children with communication disorders do not notice pauses in conversation. There are several reasons why this may be.
• First, children with communication disorders often have trouble processing information in the context of conversation. Information is moving fast and the pause may offer the child a welcome extension of time to “catch up.”
• Second, parents, siblings, teachers, and other well-intentioned friends and professionals often fill in or “fix” the unattended pause for the child. When this “fix” occurs often enough the child internalizes the pattern that “somebody else will know/fix any communication breakdown”. When someone fixes the breakdown for the child, s/he has no incentive to fix it themselves.
DAILY ACTIVITY SUGGESTION
An easy strategy to help your child notice pauses in conversation (s/he may look at you or say something to indicate s/he noticed something needed to be attended to in the conversation), simply pause. You will feel like the pause is lasting forever! It’s not. You’re just a good communicator, so you notice it. Your child needs time and practice to process and attend to pauses in conversation. This strategy helps your child learn to notice breakdowns in communication and attempt to repair them.
By increasing your child’s recognition of the “power of the pause” in conversation you can help him/her:
• Notice “communication breakdowns”.
• Learn to use the pause as a way to notice that it is his/her turn in a conversation as well as a way to indicate to another that s/he is finished with a conversational turn.