Learning conversational skills is a critical part of your child’s social development. The more they learn, the more clearly and confidently they can express themselves. Furthermore, the ability to converse with others is a vehicle for learning — without these skills, it is nearly impossible for them to understand new concepts or connect with others.
Some kids will have an aptitude for it, while others may struggle with talking and listening to others. In any case, your parental guidance is needed. To help you get started, here are five key conversation skills for children should acquire in order to become effective communicators.
Children first learn new things by observing others around them. A big part of this is not only seeing things happen but also listening to the information being shared.
First and foremost, teach your kid to focus on the speaker. To encourage focus, remind your child to maintain eye contact with the person talking to them. Remind them also to avoid fidgeting, or playing with their toys while they are conversing with someone.
You can also reinforce this habit in your conversations with them. Ask them questions concerning what you just told them, like “Do you understand?” or “can you repeat my instructions please?” These questions remind them to focus on the topic of the conversation and practice their ability to recall information.
Talking with others isn’t just about the words we say, it’s also about the nonverbal language we use. Our actions and expressions provide nuance to our words. Teaching your child the meaning behind non-verbal cues will help them understand others better, which helps them navigate social situations easier.
Try modeling different non-verbal cues, such as hand gestures, tone, physical space, and expressions during your conversations with your child. Aside from using them with intent, pair these cues with the appropriate mood. If they’re telling you a story, smile and use wide eyes to indicate interest and excitement. When they’re upset, put a gentle hand on their back while comforting them. Over time, your child will begin to understand that certain non-verbal actions relate to different emotions and situations.
Knowing when to wait to start a conversation is also essential for your child’s development. When they’re young, your child may be insistent in trying to get your attention. They’re not trying to be rude — they’re just excited to share something with you! So, it’s important to teach them without making them feel hesitant to approach you in the future.
The best way to do this is to be firm without being dismissive of their interest. Remind them to say “excuse me” if the person they want to talk to is currently doing something. When this happens with you, say things like: “I have to finish this first so I can listen to you, is that okay?” This lets them know you’re happy to talk to them, but they need to wait until you’re less busy. As a result, they’ll know how to wait and get attention from others in an appropriate manner.
Joining and starting a conversation — especially with a group — can be tricky for a young child. They need to use the three previous skills we mentioned to connect with everyone in the conversation. They also need some other skills — such as empathy — to relate to the topic at hand.
A great way to help them practice this skill is to practice these at home. For starting conversations, try to begin with greetings instead of immediately starting with your intended topic. For joining a conversation, use polite manners. When your child is talking to someone else, say: “can I join you?” before jumping in. You can also use who, what, when, where, and why questions often. It shows them how to get up to speed with an ongoing conversation.
Conversations are like tennis — each person needs to take a turn to keep things going. Developing this skill requires a lot of engagement and practice, so make sure you give your child plenty of prompts to keep talking. By doing so, you help them develop their speech skills and reinforce their idea of good listening skills.
Teach your child how to keep a conversation going by asking plenty of follow-up questions, such as “what happened next?” You can also show how to express interest by asking them to explain things in detail. Teach them how to wait their turn and remind them to avoid blurting something while someone else is talking. Tell them it’s okay to say things like: “I want to share something with you after this story.” You can also try role-playing to demonstrate how speaking out of turn can make others feel bad or how it can show disinterest.
For children, conversation skills take a lot of direct instruction, guidance, and reinforcement to develop. With the correct prompts and plenty of practice, your kid will be able to learn how to talk and listen to others effectively. As a result, they’ll be able to navigate through conversations with ease and gain confidence in social settings.