The three T’s of communication: Talking more with your child

Talk to your child more and help build strong communication skills.

Parents can help children develop important communication skills.
Parents can help children develop important communication skills.

Communication is a necessary part of life. From making friends, getting and keeping a job, and even buying an ice cream cone, people need to be able to communicate with others. So how can parents help develop these important communication skills?

In the book “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain,” Dana Suskind, Beth Suskind and Leslie Lewinter-Suskind talk about ways parents and adults can help children develop the crucial and incredibly important skill of communication. They identified the three T’s of communication: tune in, talk more and take turns. This article will focus on the second “T,” talk more.

Talk more

Talking more to your child is more than simply saying additional words to your child. It’s important to pay attention to the number of words you say, but also the quality of those words.

Talking to or at your child is saying things like, “Go get your shoes,” or “Stop hitting!” In these scenarios, you are not actually engaging with your child, you’re just telling them instructions or guidelines. When you engage with a child, you provide an opportunity for them to be actively involved in the communication process, they get the chance to learn and practice new ways to share their thoughts, ideas or opinions. This type of engagement also allows children to have a mutual level of engagement with adults. They learn the give and take of communication, such as waiting until another person has finished speaking to talk, but they also learn they are valued, respected and heard.

Michigan State University Extension has some tips for talking to your child more:

  • Narrate your own experience. Talk about what you are seeing, feeling, thinking and doing. By sharing your experience through language, you can build your child’s vocabulary and also help them understand the world.
  • Use parallel speech. Pretend your child is the subject of a documentary film and you are their narrator. Talk to them about what they are doing, seeing, hearing, tasting or touching. Describe what they are doing or who they are with. Make sure to establish eye contact with your child and talk about things in their immediate environment.
  • Be specific. Erase the words “it” and “thing” from your vocabulary. Use specific language to be descriptive. Instead of showing your child a tree in the park, tell them about the brown and bumpy tree with smooth and waxy green leaves and small, round berries.
  • Talk about the past and the present. Use your language to help your child remember things they have seen and done, what they are currently seeing and doing.
  • Expand and extend. Expand your child’s language skills by turning their simple language into longer, more complicated speech. Turn “More!” into, “You want to eat more pizza.” You can expand your child’s language by helping your child learn a better way to say something. Turn “No go!” into “You don’t want to leave the park yet.”

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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