The Art of Communication21 January 2019
Communication is a key tool to connect with others, to adapt to the environment, and importantly, to our social surroundings. But communication is not just verbal or the words that we speak but also non-verbal i.e. the gestures that we make. And through these verbal and non-verbal communication pathways, connections are made that eventually lead to form language.
Let us now draw our attention to our children… do you remember the ‘image’ of your child? That image that says the child needs to be respected and treated as a competent being? So rather than thinking of our children as helpless little people who don’t speak like we do, children should first and foremost be fully recognized and respected as being competent with unique needs and skills and above all, individuals who have their voices that need to be heard and respected.
At birth, your baby snuggles close to you when they want to be fed, and you respond lovingly ‘telling’ them that you are in synch with their signals, cues and of course, communication. When you respond to your baby’s cues, you are allowing your baby to continue developing communication skills to get their needs and wants met.
Your 7-month old has just been fed, cleaned up and loved. Yet she continues to burst into loud cries here and somehow seems upset! You soon notice that she is closely observing her sister and sister’s friend playing…and as it turns out, she is communicating her lack of appreciation for being left out from all the fun and action and wants to be part of it. And the observant mummy says “Oh! You want to join the fun? How about I put you closer to your sister?” and the result is a happy baby. Rest assured, your baby is learning that she’s an effective communicator!
Your 3 ½ year old sits with you on the balcony and you are both just chatting away. He sees a big ship out at sea and starts asking questions about the ship and starts incorporating stories he recalls to fit the context of a ship. “Mummy, I think there is a cave under that ship. But is there a bed in there?” To which mummy confidently responds, “I’m sure there are beds in there” – “No no!” he responds. A bed! A bed!” As a persistent mummy you ask: “Can you describe what it looks like? Your baby happily replies “You know, he’s BIG and brown…and lives in a cave!” “OH A BEAR!” You answer. “Hmmmm…I don’t know…what do you think? You think there is a big cave in there with a bear? How do you think they got there?” As a mum you were patient, acknowledged your child’s story as important and gave him the opportunity to describe what he was saying. And you encouraged his use of imagination to tell the story.
So what can we do to support your child’s communication skills.
Be in sync with your baby’s communication: Read their cues!
It goes without saying of course that being in sync with your baby is the most critical aspect of building good communication and relationship with them. Talk, listen and respond. It is not too complicated. Simply use your observation skills! Your baby does exhibit the necessary non-verbal communication to express their needs. So, cuddle and hug them when they are happy or distressed, make eye contact when talking to your baby, and importantly, maintain your baby’s routine to know how to respond to their signals.
Help your child elaborate on language:
Just as the example above with the 3 ½ year old, build on your child’s language skills. Engage in conversation whether it’s responding in a few sweet words to acknowledge their communication, or elaborating on their words or sentences. Let them use their imagination. Give them time to think and respond and always make eye contact when you talk to them.
Connect language and emotions through verbal and non-verbal communication:
Non-verbal expressions are strong and at times clearer than words. But with verbal communication being an important tool to communicate in society, you have to help your child associate words to emotional expressions. But first, recognize and respect your child’s emotions without making them feel uncomfortable. And second, use emotion related vocabulary when acknowledging their feelings e.g. “you’re crying because you’re sad that you can’t find your favourite teddy.” The more you acknowledge their feelings, the richer their emotional vocabulary becomes and the easier they are able to express and communicate.
And last but not least…READ, Narrate, and play pretend!
It is never too early to read. Reading can happen before the baby is born. Read the same stories to your child to help them become more familiar with the book itself. This can empower them to lead the story telling. Tell the story together. Put words and emotions to pictures and the plot of the story. Give them opportunity to imagine – the best form of language and literacy development. Act out the stories – play pretend and value their choices for the characters they want to be, or how they want to dress. Let go and laugh! Make it the coziest experience for both of you.
Dearest mums! Teach your little ones the art of good communication. It goes a long way! Yes. They start off as babies, but they are human and need to engage in affection filled communication. What you model is what your child will likely follow. Respect them! They have lots to say.