Building Communication Skills in Our Young Children
Building Communication Skills in Young Children
When I was little, I would leave a note for my grandma to find right before I left her house, and she would secretly hide one for me to find, usually tucked in my books or toys. We would write to each other often in between visits — real letters! I loved reading her cursive and was recently thinking how significant it is to "secretly" connect with our children.
So much goes into our communication. Kids have to learn everything from vocabulary skills to semantics and tone of voice - and caregivers hold the most critical roles in that development. While your young children will learn so much in early child care and grade school, their time learning with you at home is just as important.
Childhood is filled with opportunities for you to support their language skills, nonverbal communication, receptive communication, and more. Here, we've gathered tips from language professionals and a few of our favorite suggestions for building communication connections as a family.
Strategies for Supporting Communication
A note on communication development: Every child develops at a different pace, and that includes their understanding of language. Your child may not follow their peers' paths, and if you have multiple kiddos, you might notice different stages met at varying ages.
It's helpful to have an understanding of developmental milestones and get the support of your trusted pediatric professional. Certain communication disorders and other disorders that affect development, such as hearing loss, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or pragmatic language impairment, may present in early childhood. Speech-language pathologists and other communication experts are familiar with signs of communication deficits and the extensive information in the CCC-2 (Children's Communication Checklist) to help determine whether your child needs additional support.
With that, you know your child best, so observing their growth and leaning on the support of professionals is the best way to ensure they develop the proper communication skills. In addition, here are a few strategies for language-building with little ones.
Use age-appropriate skills
As you watch them learn and grow, you see each stage of your child’s life bring new skills, interests, and habits. Your toddler has vastly different communication needs than your five-year-old. Understanding the communication level of every era of your child’s life helps you build on age-appropriate skills - and understand developmental milestones.
Model proper communication
Your little one will learn more from you than anyone, which means that your modeling will be essential to their communication development. Modeling thoughtful communication can include describing your activities together, labeling objects, using proper syntax, singing aloud, playing language games, and more. Remember to model nonverbal communication through your facial expressions and eye contact as well.
Literacy development goes hand-in-hand with your child's communication development. You can promote your child's love of reading and communication skills by including read-alouds, independent reading, and scheduled literacy time. Modeling a love of reading is essential in showing your child the wonders of books! Read together, fill your house with their favorite books, and support their love of reading whenever you can find the time.
Children are naturally curious, inquisitive creatures. During preschool, kiddos seem to ask questions non-stop (around 100 per day)! But even before and after this stage, you can promote their communication by asking them questions too. Ask simple, observational questions like, "What color is that?" along with open-ended ones like, "Why do you think your friend is upset?" or "How did you build that structure?"
Promote Pretend Play
Play is crucial to your child's development. Pretend play, in particular, gives them a chance to build language with real-life and imagined situations. They use language the way they see it modeled, create imaginary roles, and practice aspects of communication they don't ordinarily explore. Support pretend play with open-ended toys, dedicated time, and asking questions when appropriate.
Communication as Connection
Valuing communication as a developmental need is important - but communication is also a vital part of your relationship with your child. Giving them a pathway to connecting with you and their loved ones is immensely precious, from infancy to adolescence.
It often seems like we don't have enough hours in the week to spend that precious quality time alone with each of our children. But little moments of connection - like the notes my grandma and I left for one another - offer a way to find the time, even on busy days. These little written admirations passed back & forth connect & satisfy us in much the same, quiet way.
To offer my own kiddos the same connection, I started a journal between each of my children and me to write and draw our love for each other. I make sure to write clearly and always end my note with a question, so my children have an inspired start in their notes back to me. I also include cute drawings and plenty of inside jokes. If your children are younger and not yet able to write, simply create drawings for each other.
Writing back & forth with children has an element of wonder & curiosity. Isn't it exciting to get a letter? Sometimes my children & I forget to reply and tend to gently remind each other with a new note in the journal or a nudge, but it is never a forced activity with expectations. If you have a hesitant writer (a child that is just learning or otherwise struggles with it), extend understanding & gentleness. This journal between your child & you is a place that nurtures trust and encouragement.
Finding New Ways to Explore Communication and Connection
Supporting communication is important - and you can find creative, loving ways to build your child's skills and navigate communication problems as they arise. As you explore your child's communication, learning as much from them as they do you, you'll find new ways to connect with each other.
Looking for more fun, educational activities to explore as a family? Check out our blog for exciting ideas and inspiration to share with your little one each day.