For some children, difficulty communicating makes it hard to participate in conversation. Other children are hesitant to participate in conversation because they are introverted, shy or anxious. It’s important to encourage children to participate in conversation – by participating more they improve their conversational skills and become more comfortable conversing.
Here are some ways to encourage children to participate in conversation:
- Develop your relationship with them. This will make them more comfortable talking to you.
- Talk to them as often as possible. Talk about things that interest them, or what they are doing or looking at in the moment.
- Place yourself at their level, or even a little bit lower than them. This can make them feel more comfortable. It’s usually best to face them, but some children feel more comfortable sitting next to an adult.
- Use a soft, inviting voice.
- Pause often to let them talk, but do not pressure them to do so.
- Make lots of comments, since comments invite children to participate in a conversation without pressuring them to do so. Limit questions, since some children feel lots of pressure when we ask a lot of questions. Avoid telling children directly that they have to say something (Say “please” / Tell grandma what happened yesterday.)
- Some children will finish your sentence if you start a sentence and pause before the end (I love cookies! You love…)
- Reduce the stress of answering questions by giving choices. (What would you like to drink – water or milk?)
- Support the child’s communication by accepting all of the ways that they communicate – gestures, sounds, words, drawings. When children look at an object or point to it, they are telling us something and it is our job to try to interpret the message.
- Provide pictures or visual supports, such as pictures of past events or a 5-point scale, to help them participate in a conversation.
- At the same time, say what they would say if they could. Do not ask them to repeat. Just model words and sentences for them as often as possible.
- Avoid criticizing them or criticizing the way they talk.
- Look for situations in which they feel comfortable talking, and increase these situations. They may like playing board games, looking at pictures in books and naming them, singing songs, or talking about their friends. Increase their opportunities to do the things that motivate them to talk.
- Consider enrolling them in a social communication group, such as SpeechWorks’ Connect & Communicate groups. In these groups, we provide a caring environment with lots of support. We teach communication skills using direct instruction, and then we practice the skills in fun activities.
I hope this article was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. Contact us today!