Having a conversation with your young child

When you converse with your children, you are giving them opportunities to grow as well as giving yourself an enjoyable pastime.

Anytime is a great time to have a conversation with your child.
Anytime is a great time to have a conversation with your child.

Some people say a child’s conversation doesn’t get interesting until they are in school. That may be because they haven’t had the opportunity to converse with a child under 5 years old.

Young children have a unique perspective on their world and how it operates. They have thoughts, ideas and opinions of their own, but with some children it is hard to find out what these are. When you get involved with conversations with young children, you are giving them opportunities to grow as well as giving yourself an enjoyable pastime.

Why is it important to have conversations?

There are several reasons why it is good for children to engage in conversation with adults or other children. For one thing, it helps the child build those critical literacy skills they need to develop to be successful in school and life. After all, oral language is the basis of literacy and reading and writing proceed from talking and listening.

Conversation also builds thinking skills such as planning, remembering and organizing thoughts and experiences. By putting important concepts into words, such as alike and different or then and now, children enhance their cognitive development skills. In fact, many experts believe the language we use during conversations helps to map out how our brains are organized, according to “Brain Development and Mastery of Language in the Early Childhood Years” by Intercultural Development Research Association.

Having conversations can also build emotional development skills. When you talk to your child about how they are feeling and give them the words for their feelings, it helps them to understand themselves better. Feelings can be very confusing and overwhelming for young children. Having the words to describe their feelings can help them accept their own emotions as well as those of other people, says the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.

Finally, having conversations builds relationships between you and your child. According to “Parental bonding=happy, stable child” by the University of Iowa, when parents talk to their children, they show they are interested and care about them. It builds trust between parent and child and contributes to bonding. The warm secure relationship that comes from talking with, not at, your child, is the foundation for all development.

How can parents start and maintain conversations with their young child?

Starting and maintaining a conversation usually works when you bring up a topic the child is interested in, such as the type of toys they like to play with or a favorite book. Michigan State University Extension suggests asking open-ended questions such as, “What toy do you want to play with now?”

In “Tips for Talking with Young Children,” child development researchers Judy Jablon and Charlotte Stetson suggest these two strategies for beginners learning how to have conversations.

  • Both people in the conversation get a turn. Children need to understand the “back and forth” nature of conversation, so make sure you guide the conversation in a two-way process. Avoid doing all the talking or expecting your child to do all the talking.
  • One way to help a conversation along is to pause after you say something or ask a question. Make sure your pause is long enough to give your child time to think through an answer and put their thoughts into words. Children can get confused when they are faced with three or four questions or comments all at once.

You don’t have to make formal arrangements for conversations with your young child. “Talking with Young Children: How Teachers Encourage Learning,” published in Dimensions of Early Childhood, states it is better if you engage in conversation as part of your daily routines such as mealtime, preparing for bed or riding in the car.

Start talking and listening. You may hear something amazing!

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