“It's traveling faster than the eye can see
Information in the sky
Messages beamed across the atmosphere
Transmitted by you and I
Say the words
Are you there? Can I be heard?
Heart to heart
Come together worlds apart...”
And so the lyric of Janet Jackson’s song ‘Communication’ goes. Communication impairments can affect the young, the aged, the disabled, and the poor. It can affect you and me. Sometimes we just find it difficult to find the right words. Sometimes a situation seems intimidating and we feel shy to say what we really feel. Sometimes we are afraid that others will make fun of us or reject us. All of these difficulties are particularly common with young children.
Though communication comes naturally for most of us, it is a critical element in parent child relationships and in raising children. Teaching children how to become effective communicators is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give to your child. One needs to be thoughtful about your communication because it is the foundation for your relationships with your child as he grows up and allows him to find out things, to understand the world around him and to have his emotional needs met. Your child uses communication every moment he’s awake and he uses communication in every area of his life. Communication development for young children includes gaining the skills to understand and to express thoughts, feelings and information.
The process of understanding communication begins before birth (during pregnancy)and continues through life, as a child hears, sees, and interprets information from other people. The expression of communication or a child’s language begins with head, eye, and body movements, as well as, through simple vocalizations and hand motions. Language expression then progresses to words, sentences, and conversations through many methods which include gestures, spoken words, sign language, pictorial language systems, and communication boards. It is essential that a child acquires one of these functional means of expressive language before going to kindergarten. The ability to communicate effectively is a key skill that will help children at all stages of their education and beyond. This would encompass oral communication as well as written communication.
Generally, children who can talk with adults and peers alike will have the confidence to share their ideas. As part of daily home and school life, children will have to put their views across, deliver instructions, carry out presentations and communicate their thoughts clearly. In this modern age, we find our children are also expected to use different media methods to present their work (video recording, websites etc). Being able to communicate effectively will mean that children can use dramatic techniques and technical vocabulary with confidence to convey their thoughts and ideas.
Experts agree that children who are poor communicators are tremendously disadvantaged when trying to achieve success. This is because these children frequently misconstrue directions, may forget key facts or ideas and as this occurs, their achievements in school decline. If they do not remember the information they hear, their knowledge base may bein danger of dwindling. In addition, misunderstandings of verbal and nonverbal messages can put their friendships and relationships with peers at risk. If they cannot make their views understood, their future success in the work place can also be curtailed. If communication within the family is weak, even your own relationships with your child as a parent will suffer. Understanding both verbal and non-verbal language is the key to solving problems, acquiring knowledge and accepting others.
Effective communication skills and success are just too tightly connected for us to assume that our kids will acquire these skills by chance. Just as our children must learn reading, writing and arithmetic to be their best, they must also learn to be effective communicators and you are your child’s most important communication instructor. Communication skills in a child are built by being around caring adults who communicate with them and whom respond to their efforts to communicate. Talking to a toddler can encourage them to communicate as this develops both their listening and speaking skills. When they watch how you communicate as their model, they also learn to acquire appropriate skills.
- Talk to your child and describe what you are both doing/seeing
- Read simple stories with pictures about things toddlers know
- Identify sounds in their environment
- Make books about topics that are important to the child i.e. my family
- Model correct speech (even though you accept the way the child speaks)
- Talk about feelings
- Provide materials/activities that promote communication i.e. peek-a-boo, using puppets, story-telling, songs, books, posing questions, labeling their drawings etc.
In Malaysia, you can also take advantage of the different languages spoken by children’s families to enrich your child’s language environment.
Since communication skills are central to our ability to relate to others, in order to understand what others have to say, we need to do 3 things.
- receive the message
- interpret the message
- send back an appropriate message
If you take note of a child’s speech pattern and notice any impairments in any of these general areas mentioned, this should be reported for the purpose of assessment.
There are several ways for you to achieve this with your child, depending upon their age. You should use your knowledge of your children to promote communication skills by sharing your pleasures and excitement at first words because your enthusiasm will encourage an infant to learn words. Modeling speech is also an excellent way to improve a child’s communication skills, as is reading books and encouraging writing.
Always keep the lines of communication open between you and your child so that your child is comfortable to share their thoughts and ideas with you. Enhance your child’s social competence by helping him to notice and translate other people’s nonverbal messages around him.
Since we know that infants and toddlers develop communication skills by being around adults who respond to them and talk to them we should strive to develop a trusting responsive relationship with each child.
- respond to crying as a form of communication
- take advantage of daily routines as opportunities to communicate
- play games in which you interact and have fun together
- Naming things
- Using your normal tone of voice
- Using word with interesting sounds
- Talking to children about their feelings
- Playing with the language (making up rhymes and silly words)
- Using songs and finger plays
- Displaying pictures
- Using books
- Providing puppets, dolls and dress up clothes
- Being quiet sometimes and listen to your child!
Jennifer Peters is a Consultant Speech-Language Pathologist who has made meaningful communication her life’s work.
The benefits of using declarative communication in your daily routines with your communication delayed child
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