5 Little Tips for Talking to Little Ones

If you have to say “Cat got your tongue?” when talking to a child, then you’re doing it wrong! Winning the affection of children is something that most of us endeavour to master in our lifetime. As Ralph Waldo Emerson states “To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…this is to have succeeded.” Some of us work harder than others to achieve this. We all know the uncle or friend at social events who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger from Kindergarten Cop on the ground, covered in a swarm of offspring. Whatever your motivation for talking to little ones, be it bonding or to build their communication skills, the truth is that sometimes it is hard work. Here are 5 ways to work smarter rather than harder when trying to converse with a child:

1. Question. Answer. Question. Answer. ZZZZZ…

In the mind of a child, asking questions implies testing but making comments implies interest. Much like a conversation with an adult, one with too many questions can become very long in the tooth. It ends up feeling like a game show where you are the unassuming and under prepared contestant. Children will tend to clam up when asked too many questions which prevents the conversation staying on the one topic. By balancing our questions with comments, we create more opportunities for children to take a turn in the back-and-forth interaction.

Did you know studies have shown a strong connection in the number of turns children take in a conversation and the scores they receive on standardised language tests? Check out this great article by Andrea Lynn Koohi, Hanen Staff Writer on ‘The Power of Turn Taking’ http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/Articles/power-turn-taking.aspx.

As adults, we should try to ‘Strive for 5’ conversational turns on the same topic with young children to strengthen their depth of language and communication skills.

2. Never give a child the option of saying no

“Would you like a cuddle?” No. “Would you like to have dinner now?” No “Can I play with you?” No. Harsh but true. Try asking an open-ended question instead of a closed one. Imagine a closed question being like a door closing in your face while an open question is an open door…full of opportunities and possibilities.

When you ask a question that can be answered with a yes or no, you have asked a closed question. “Did you have a good day at school today?” The answer will invariably be “yep”.

Try open questions or wh questions and you might get a longer response. “Who did you play with today?” “What stories did you read today?” “Where did you go today other than your classroom?” To extend on the typical ‘wh’ questions, try ‘Blank’s Levels of questions’ when you read with your child http://askaspeechie.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Blank-handout.pdf

3. Be interested NOT interesting

By asking about something you’re interested in rather than the child’s interests, you will most certainly send the conversation to a halt. Children are ego-centric. It seems like common sense but some people are much better than others at letting the child lead the interaction. It’s all about something called ‘cognitive resourcing’.

If a child has to use all their ‘cognitive resourcing’ or ‘brain power’ to stay focussed and maintain attention on what the adult is interested in, then less brain capacity is available for the topic of conversation.

If however, they are interested in what they are talking about all their energy can be dedicated to the discussion at hand.

4. Pitch at the right level

Children have very different language requirements depending on their age. Many adults don’t adjust their language when conversing with children and often use jokes that go over the child’s head. So when does humour develop in children? Well like most developmental milestones, it develops in stages and the ages vary considerably.

However, jokes that rely on sarcasm or irony are usually not understood until around age 5. Interestingly, a few pre-requisite skills are required for a sense of humour to develop including socialisation, imagination, perspective and language.

5. Be a player not a spectator

The number one way to get a young child to open up and “have a chat” is to get down to their level and PLAY! All too often, adults will stand by supervising the play instead of joining in.

Joining in and playing builds communication non-verbally first and provides an engaging and shared context for verbal communication.

But let’s face it, there are only so many pretend cups of tea one can drink or games of hide and seek that one parent can endure.
KINDERGARTEN COP, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1990. ©Universal Pictures

And of course, if all else fails, you have two options:
1) Enjoy the peace and quiet of being disliked OR
2) Give them a Freddo Frog and they’ll be your BFF (best friend forever).

Thanks for hearing our call,
Your Little Birdies xx