Developing communication skills in young children

Speech is just one facet of communication. Other equally important facets of communication are listening skills, comprehension, attention, gestures, and facial expression. Communication is quite a complex business and communication skills are being learnt from baby’s first moments of life.

Steps in language development

Step one: The small baby’s sounds and movements are largely reflexive in response to his environment and changes in it — being fed, having his nappy changed, etc. Parents interpret these sounds and movements as having certain meanings. For example when the baby cries the parent may interpret this as meaning he is hungry or uncomfortable.

Step two: As baby develops, he gains more control over his movements and begin to look around with interest and reach out for objects or people that interest him. From six months onwards, babies begin to use a number of gestures with the intent to communicate — for instance pointing at something they want.

Step three: From six months to a year, a baby’s vocalisations include several forms of babbling. He begins to use various consonant-vowel combinations, eg, baba, dada. The final stage of pre-verbal vocalisations includes ‘jargoning’ which emerges at about 12 months. Jargoning joins consonants-vowel combinations with a variety of intonation patterns and inflections that sound very similar to adult conversational speech.

Step four: When the first words do emerge, they are words that are closely linked to the situation the child is in and are usually accompanied by gestures. Baby might use the word ‘no’ to demonstrate that he does not want something while using gestures to accompany the word. In contrast, mama and dada may be accompanied by smiles and outstretched arms.

Step five: Over the next few years as the child learns words that represent different parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, adjectives ), these allow the child to combine words and become more specific about requests, comments, and directions.

Step six: Between four and six years, your child is completing his basic knowledge of the language skills that he will need to use for the rest of his life.

Tips to help your child develop speech and language skills:

A child who hears words and expressions regularly and is spoken to frequently will have a wider vocabulary. Always involve your child in the daily activities at home, explaining what you are doing and commenting on what is happening.

Use simple clear language when talking with your young child and remember to talk slowly and clearly, to give him a chance to catch all the words.

Listening is a fundamental skill in communication. It’s important that you model good listening skills for your child — when your child is trying to communicate with you, take the time to listen and respond.

When your child is using words, make sure you encourage their use — ask him what he is doing, get him to describe objects, encourage him to talk about his day, etc. Be sure to listen and respond. The more words he learns at this stage the better. You can also increase his vocabulary by describing what he is doing and adding more words onto his sentences.

Children love songs and nursery rhymes and these are a rich source of learning — not just the words but also the inflections and tones of language. Even before they talk many children can repeat the tune of their favourite rhymes.

Remember you don’t have to do any formal structured work to help your child develop good language skills. Sitting down on the floor playing with toys is more valuable to language development than trying to teach your child one word at a time.

Be careful of too much TV in your child’s day — this is a very passive activity and your child will learn much more communication skills from interacting with people.

Books and stories are also great sources of learning new vocabulary and language in general. They also help develop a baby’s attention and listening skills.

If placing your child in childcare, an important consideration when deciding which option to go for, is that the carer you choose is aware of the need to provide an environment that is both language-rich and warm and secure so that your child will flourish.

For more information visit www.RollerCoaster.ie, Ireland’s no 1 website for pregnancy and parenting.

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