Raising a little human is a tough task for any parent. We are responsible for teaching our children how to walk, talk, and be overall good human beings. A young child, as young as infancy, already begins to understand forms of communication, both verbal and non-verbal. There are several ways parents can encourage communication development in a young child.
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Two Types of Communication
Verbal communication is any written or oral form of communication. It is mostly referred to in the spoken form though. Verbal communication uses sounds and words as opposed to gestures.
The majority of our communication is non-verbal. Verbal communication is speaking, non-verbal communication is basically everything else that goes along with verbal communication.
This includes: eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture and body orientation, body language, space and distance, proximity, para-linguistic, humor, touch, silence, personal appearance, symbol, and visual communication.
A child can tell if we are paying attention, how we are feeling, and can sense our reactions based on our non-verbal communication. They mimic our non-verbal communication before they can orally verbalize.
Communication With a Child
When you talk to a baby, you tend to use a lot of baby babble and facial expressions. We don’t usually realize why we’re doing it, it kind of just takes over. It is a natural instinct because babies don’t talk but they do see us and they are their little bodies are developing quickly. One silly face might make our baby laugh and it brings us so much joy.
Infants pick up on non-verbal communication before they can orally communicate with us. They mimic and react to everything we do. Humor through body language for example, is a great way to get a reaction from almost any infant.
Scientists believe that babies can actually communicate through American Sign Language as early as six months old. Determining whether this would be considered verbal or non-verbal can a bit of a fine line however.
As a child grows out of infancy and into toddlerhood, they gain several new developmental skills, including communication. By the age of 2, these developmental skills are rapidly increasing and your child will be talking away and learning faster than you can stop to realize it.
Their verbal communication peaks as they learn a lot from the people around them, such as parents, friends, relatives, and even from daycare/preschool. You may start to notice some sass and characteristic behaviors through their new non-verbal gestures, posture, body language, and humor. With these quickly developing skills, parents need to be more attentive of what and how they do or say things.
You’ve probably already been cutting back on the “bad words.” Now you have to bring it back down to an even more intense definition of “bad words” so that your child isn’t getting themselves in trouble in the playground or at school. You’ll also start to notice that your kid is reacting to or copying you in ways you didn’t imagine, like the way you handle your temper or phrases you tend to use. It can be good or bad, you really just need to pay close attention.
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Tips for Improving Child Communication Skills
As you know, parents are their child’s biggest role models. Our children copy everything we do so it’s important to influence them by setting the right examples, including the way we communicate with them.
Some of these tips are meant to be taught occasionally and gradually and occasional while others to be more frequently. Teaching these communication lessons to a young child are no easy task. Learning takes time so give your child that time to slowly absorb the more difficult concepts.
One of the most recommended things for encouraging language development in a child is reading. Do you read to your child every day?
If you don’t, don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to read to them every night before bedtime, but it’s ideal to read regularly to your child.
As they get older, their focus gains on you and their interest sparks in different directions. I love taking my kids to the library to play and pick out some books to read at home. We don’t always have the chance to read them all but my oldest really gets into some stories, especially if it’s about a topic or character he likes or is curious to know more about.
Favorites for babies/young toddlers:
Goodnight Moon, Harry The Dirty Dog, From Head To Toe, The Feelings Book, Olivia
Favorites for toddlers/preschoolers:
The Day The Crayons Quit, I Love Being Me, Uniquely Me!, There’s No Place Like Space, Curious George
Silence Vs. Over-Explaining
Being a parent to an infant for the first time, I mostly stayed quiet around my child. But as my child started getting a few months older I realized that my silence was teaching him nothing. I quickly learned the importance of communication with my child, starting more with nonverbal and increasingly more verbal.
Even when you think your child is too young to understand everything you say or do around them, they are actually observing and learning from all our verbal and non-verbal cues. Whether it’s talking your baby through bath time and expressing extra joy to transfer that excitement to them or repetitively telling them “ma-ma” or “da-da,” they’re paying attention. Little by little they start gaining the skills and physical development to naturally express themselves too. It can start with those pooping faces and graduate to their first words and phrases.
I learned so much about communicating with my children in their first few years. Toddler tantrums are no joke, and I realized that when I explained things in a calm and simple way with a positive and happy attitude before taking action that they would react much better. Tantrums were often avoided in my household purely due to communication with my child. Don’t get me wrong though, every child has tantrums regardless of clear communication, and my family has been no different.
One of the first factors within communication that a child will mimic is non-verbal expressions, including body language, gestures, facial expressions, etc.
Gestures and facial expressions are just as important in our daily communication with a child as they were with infants. Our growing children catch on to our facial expressions really quickly, that’s why sometimes we have to fake smile when we’re trying to be supportive or hold in a laugh from their bad but funny behavior. We send a strong message to our child through our facial expressions, it’s a huge part of communication.
In early toddlerhood, children begin to understand our emotions based off our expressions. This is also the time when they begin to develop a lot of emotions themselves, and we are there to guide them in understanding and managing them. We must set good examples of through our non-verbal expressions just as equally as with our vocabulary.
My kids and I loved mimicking the facial expressions in these feelings flashcards since they were really little. We like to discuss each feeling and about the consequences of some more advanced emotions and behaviors on the flashcards.
Proximity and Distance
We all know about personal space and how much distance to keep between others in situations such as a standing conversation or waiting in line. But children have absolutely no understanding of this and it takes a while for them to truly understand that.
Regularly explain to your child what personal space is in situations of play or patience and it will help them to develop better practices for kindness and sharing.
Studies say that eye contact signals interest and attention in others as well as increases a speaker’s credibility.
At a young age, it’s difficult for a child to maintain eye contact, but it sure doesn’t hurt to try. When we position ourselves at their eye level to maintain eye contact we give them our full attention they will learn to do the same. It may not seem like it, but this is an important aspect of communication for a child to learn, even if they often get distracted.
Focus and Attention
Your child will likely have your attention when they make their first sounds or begin to show signs of communication. But as they get older and communicate on a regular basis you will likely learn to tune out that little voice on occasion. We’re all guilty of that, and rightfully so because curious toddlers can’t turn it off.
It is important to tune back in at the right moments and show them the appropriate attention. Put down whatever you’re doing, especially the devices, and give them some undivided attention from time to time. Even if it means scheduling a few minutes of one-on-one conversation time every once in a while.
When we show our kids moments of our focused attention, they gain a better understanding for reciprocating the same with others.
But again, take this with a grain of salt. Don’t expect your child’s focus and attention to last long at a young age.
Children, as young as infants, learn to develop their communication skills naturally but even more so by observation. Communication is not just written or spoken word but also all the gestures and expressions of non-verbal communication.
Some important notes to take with you from this are:
- Be your child’s role model.
- Give your child the focus and attention they deserve with the proper eye contact.
- Read to your child.
- Overly express yourself with and without words (verbally and non-verbally.)
- Never stop- they are always learning!
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My name is Paula and I’m a mom of two scrumptious cuties. Thanks Mommy Blog became a project for me to help guide other new moms and current moms through any of my own personal experiences and struggles. My hobbies include singing, doing jigsaw puzzles, baking, designing and trying to stay creative.