The three T’s of communication: Tuning in to your child

Tune in to your child, follow their cues and help build strong communication skills.

The first step for helping your child develop good communication skills is to tune in.
The first step for helping your child develop good communication skills is to tune in.

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 first “T,” tune in.

Tune in

The first crucial step for helping your child develop good communication skills in young children is to tune in. You have to pay attention to what a child is focusing on or paying attention to and then engage your child using language. Talk to your child about what they are doing, looking at or what you think they are thinking about. When your child observes a squirrel in your yard, talk to them about it, “Look at the brown squirrel! His tail is so fluffy!” This type of engagement helps your child build connections in their brain that help to create links between what is happening in their world using language.

It can be easy for parents and caregivers to want to tune in on their own terms, meaning we expect infants and young children to focus on what we’re looking at or interested in. It can be hard for young children to switch their attention, so try to follow your child’s cues and get interested in what they are doing.

The act of tuning in involves parental responsiveness, which occurs in three steps: observation, interpreting and action. In observing, adults can learn what the child is doing. Next we interpret what the child is thinking or interested in. Then we take action, and decide how to respond to their cues.

For example, imagine you are taking your toddler for a walk around the neighborhood in their stroller. You observe your child watching your neighbor’s dog very intently. You interpret that your child is interested in exploring or interacting with the dog. You act and take your child out of the stroller so they can engage with the dog.

Michigan State University Extension has some tips for tuning in to your child:

  • Play detective. Observe your children closely. What are they interested in? What do they ignore? What makes them laugh? Who do they look at the longest? The best way to tune in to your child is to really know them. So put on your detective’s cap and start looking for clues!
  • Check out their worldview. Instead of asking your child to see what you see, take some time to think about what the world looks like from their point of view. Try sitting on the floor and seeing what your child actually sees.
  • Follow your child’s cues. You may not see much excitement in watching the ceiling fan rotate for hours on end, but your small child definitely does. So let their interest and engagement be opportunities for you to engage with them and help them build important connections in their brains.

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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