Thursday, February 25, 2010

Week 7 "Listen With Your Heart"

How has turn taking been going? Is it going well or are you finding it to be a bit frustrating? If you are finding it to be difficult, I have another suggestion that might just make this easier. But first we need to think about what a child and adult interaction or "turn taking" might look like. As adults we like to tell our child what to do and then they do it (or at least that's the plan :) We tell our children when to get up; we tell them when to go to bed; we make their meals for them and they eat what we have prepared; we pick out their clothes, etc. Now I am not saying that is a bad thing, that is what we do as parents.

But if we are focusing on "popping" new words with our child, here is my hint, Let the child be the leader. I can imagine that you are being a bit wary right now but let me explain further. When you are taking your 5 or 10 minutes to focus on expanding your child's communication skills and you are doing turn taking, let the child start the turn and let the child pick the activity or toy.

Since this blog is about communication from a child's point of view let's think about the child in this situation. They are picking out a toy and the adult is happy and excited about the fun! They start a turn and the special adult in their lives is happy about it and responds, wow! This is becoming a really great thing for the child. Communication is emotionally based and this child is now emotionally invested, they are having fun with a person that they love AND they are in charge. I would bet that they will search out doing this sort of activity more and more if it feels this good.

All people want to be heard, they want to feel respect, they want to feel like they matter. Adult people and children. How fun to find some activities that we can do that are not demeaning, or based on ordering and demanding results. We are actively engaged with our precious child helping them to learn the joy of communication and we are both having fun. While I wrote that last line a line from a song popped into my head "listen with your heart." And that is exactly what I am getting at, "listen with your heart, lead with your heart" and you and your child will do fantastically.

Have a wonderful week. As always, I would love to hear from you...any questions you might have that are specific to you and your family? Any comments? Just let me know.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Week 6 "My Turn" "Your Turn"

Today I want you to take a minute and picture yourself chatting with your best friend. Really picture it....where are you? In your house? Starbucks? What are you both doing and not doing (verbally and nonverbally)? How is the conversation flowing (smooth and balanced)? How do you feel when you are chatting with this person (happy; peaceful)?

Now I want you to picture yourself in a conversation that is going badly. How is that different than the first one?

There are so many things that go into a good conversation. I am going to focus on turn taking today because that is a key to having a good conversation with another person. When you are talking with your best friend the conversation flows. You stop and the other person starts. You balance one another. Sometimes one person has a burst of talking and the other person is actively listening and supporting. There can be laughing, touching, tears, and lots of sharing of information. In a great conversation it is balanced...easy...effortless. What a joyful time together. And in that bubble of a great conversation it feels like you can talk for hours, you don't have to think about it, it just happens.

With our children we need to encourage them to understand the concept of turn taking as a base for a conversation. Another presenter that I was so impressed by and one that I actively search out is Dr. Stanley Greenspan. I would encourage you to read anything and everything by him :) He has a term called "circles of communication" which is exactly what we are trying to establish with our child.

Basically it's "I do something and then you do something, which I then respond to". That is a circle. That is turn taking. And you need to understand the concept of turn taking to understand how a conversation works. So, how do we teach someone how to do this? We start in a playful manner.

Look for your child to initiate something, for example, they put a block on the floor (their turn), you take a block and put it on their block and say "up", (your turn); the following turn could be so many things. They might smile at you; they might put a block on top of the other blocks; they might knock the blocks down; they might even say "up". And then you respond to whatever they give you. Let's look at the examples and think how you could respond.

1. They smile at you. You could smile back, or laugh. You could smile (with good eye contact) and then do something unexpected like knock the blocks over and say "uh oh" and then wait to see what your child does. You could say/sign "my turn" and then take a block and put it on top.

2. They might put a block on top of the other blocks. You could catch their eye, say "up" or "my turn" and place another block on top. You could do the unexpected from the last example. You could grab a block and say or sign "more" with a question sounding tone to your voice and hand the block to your child.

3. They might knock the blocks down. Actually you know that they are going to do this! You could say "uh oh" or "oh no" with animation. You could bang the floor with your open hand and say "down". You could share the moment with a laugh.

4. They might say or sign "up". Woo hoo!! You would say "yes, up" with a happy tone of voice and quickly repeat putting the block on top and say "up" again. And then hand your child another block. Or you might say "my turn" with a question tone to your voice and see if your child grabs a block and puts it on to show you that, no it is not your turn :)

These are not the only options, just some examples. But the idea behind each one is that you want the turns to continue as long as you can. It's not a forced activity, it's a fun time where each person involved is feeling equal in the turn taking. There is not wrong or right, just enjoying eachothers company and taking turns. This sets up so many opportunities for your child to communicate.

Enjoy this week of "my turn" "your turn" and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Week 5 Behavior Is a Form Of Communication, Not Something to Control

I went to a workshop many years ago and a woman whose name is Lorna Jean King gave a powerful presentation. She was an occupational therapist who worked with children and she was magical to watch and listen to. One idea she shared with us has stayed with me and is one of the philosophies that I base my interaction with the children and families that I work with.

She said "Behavior is a form of communication, not something to be controlled".

Now think about what she is saying, as a parent with a child that is having trouble communicating. You know in your heart that what she is saying is absolutely true. In our society children and their families are judged so much on how they behave. If you have a "good" child that sits quietly when you are in a restaurant, then you are good parents. If you have a "good child" that follows directions and doesn't challenge you, then you are "good parents." But is this really true? I don't believe so.

Let's think about your child, the child that is having trouble communicating. Often times this child is frustrated because they know what they want to say but do not have the skills to say what they want. When a child is frustrated, how do they behave? They may not sit still and follow directions. They may need to move their bodies to let you know what they are thinking or what they need (nonverbal communication). They might be loud and make unusual sounds which are really word approximations but other people might judge as being noise. They might cry, scream, hit, do things to get your attention that will not fall under the "good child" heading.

But you know, what they ARE doing is communicating. If your child is screaming or hitting let's look at why they are doing that. Could they need to tell you something and can't? Think how you would feel. If your child is crying, why are they crying and then what can we do to help them communicate their needs?

When your child is in this position, let them know that you are listening. Validate their feelings. Say things like "I know you are mad because mommy said no." Or "you are so angry right now, I'm sorry but how about we get a drink and take a break. Or take them onto your lap, hold them and say "I'm right here, just take a break until you are feeling better." Now, they will continue to maybe yell and cry but if you can remain calm they may tune into that and relax and calm down too. Let them know that you understand what they are trying to say or that you can give them the words they would like to be saying at that moment.

Now, I know that this can be hard. It's hard to have your child melt down somewhere public like the library or have the child that won't follow directions at play group. It's embarrassing and uncomfortable and downright miserable. But as miserable as you feel, your child is feeling really miserable too. So, take a deep breath, calm yourself and then help your child get through this hard time. Your child will be so grateful that you understand and are there for them.

And you know what, even though you feel like everyone is judging you negatively and you are feeling low when this happens, in reality most moms really have empathy for one another. And when you confidently can show others that you know just what to do when your child is melting down you are being a role model for others. As parents we really need to support and encourage one another.

Good luck this week!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Week 4 It's not what we say but how we say it

Today we are going to chat about some of the nonverbal things that we adults can do to help your child stay interested in communicating. Remember we talked about nonverbal communication before? Originally we were looking at nonverbal communication while we were being detectives and studying what our child might be saying to us. We were watching things like facial expressions; tone of voice; what interested the child and other things like that.

So now we are going to reverse that process and look at ourselves. There are some simple tricks that we can be doing to make our communication turn taking with our child much more fun and successful:

Hint #1: Try to be down at your child's level when talking with them. This would mean either we need to get down to the child's level by squatting, kneeling or sitting on the floor; or we might put them in an elevated position like holding them in our arms; holding them so that we are face to face while we are sitting down; or putting them in a high chair or other seating so that we can look at eachother. Being able to look another person in the eyes is a very powerful way to encourage communication. When you are down on your child's level, eye to eye, you are letting your child know that you are totally engaged with your child. You are not being distracted by the phone, by the other kids, by the TV, etc. You are looking them in the eye, you are totally ready to listen and chat with your child. This will encourage your child to say more; sign more; gesture more....communicate more, which is what we are looking for.

Hint #2: Use animation when you are communicating with your child. Think of Blues Clues; Sesame Street; any character or celebrity that is focused on children. Use a fun voice; be silly; smile alot; make this fun. If you are playing with a car, use your best car noises, vroom, vroom, or "go go". If you are playing with a figurine or doll, talk for the doll or use a funny voice. Change the pitch of your voice. If you are having the train go "up, up, up" the hill then use a dramatic voice to say "up, up, up" and pace it slowly with the hope that your child might just join in and say/sign "up". Remember, the more fun your child is having, the more turns they will take. The more turns they take, the more practice they get in communicating. Plus, it really does make communication fun.

Hint #3: Give your child a chance to respond. As adults we talk fast and use lots of words. We are really good at this and it is difficult for us to simplify what we say and slow the pace of speaking down. This is probably the hardest thing I am going to share with you but it is one of the most helpful hints. When you are trying to "pop" your child's language you are already using shorter models like just a one or two word phrase. But often times, we are so busy throwing out all these great short models that we are not giving our child a chance to respond. Remember when we talked about all the physical things that a person needs to do to talk, like valve the air, move our tongues, etc? Well, sometimes it takes a bit of time to mentally process the information that we are hearing and then make our body come up with a response. Think about how you feel if you are having a conversation with a person that asks you a question and then answers it before you have a chance to respond. Or you are talking with a person that talks only about themselves and doesn't give you a chance to jump in. That may be how your child is feeling with you. So, here is what you need to try. Give them your model, like, "up, up, up" (of course with animation) and then wait a bit. Look expectantly (nonverbal communication) and give your child a chance to imitate you in some way. Maybe even try counting slowly to 5 or more to help you wait. When they respond then you take your turn and give them another model that is just as fun and then wait again. You may be very surprised at what you hear and see.

When you use these hints you are giving your child every opportunity to communicate. You are showing them that you are listening, you are looking at their face so that they see you are interested and they can watch your mouth and facial expressions. You are waiting with an expectant look on your face after giving them a model that is short but fun. And often times, this is when a word, or word approximation or sign will pop!! Honest! I have had parents say that when they try these tricks at home their child looks at them differently, almost like they are saying "well, finally you figured out how to talk with me". How fun is that?

As always, have a great week and we'll chat again next Thursday.