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.

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