Offer a simple three part guide: it's hard for many children to grasp the more subtle social skills unless adults explain it in simple terms. Consider the following opening, "I've noticed that sometimes it's hard for you to get conversations going with other kids or that things go wrong. I can help with that. There are three steps involved; greetings-that-go-somewhere, common ground, and deeper discussion."
Emphasize the importance of other non-verbal skills
Eye contact, gestures, facial expression, body posture and proximity, and movement are all important to social skills. One way to identify these factors is for the two of you to watch television programs that depict child actors with various social skill strengths and weaknesses. Gently point out to your child how a certain character compares to them, and suggest how they might improve by keeping certain ideas in mind.
Use role-play to practice their improved skills
Provided you have succeeded in having a non-threatening discussion with your child about these issues many children are willing to practice with a parent. Pretend you are a similar age peer and "set the scene" so that your child can develop comfort and facility with his/her new knowledge and skills. If they are willing, videotape the interaction so that the two of you can more easily discuss and critique their social practice session.
Modelling conversational skills
One of the most important things in helping children learn to talk is to have frequent, friendly conversations with them. These conversations do not have to be long, or be about anything adults consider important; Talk about anything your child is doing or is interested in, no matter how insignificant it seems to you. Use easy words he can understand and say, then keep the conversation going as long as you both are enjoying your time together. Think of this as "practicing" conversation, the same way a child practices doing anything else.
It is common for adults to want to help, change, and teach children with delays. We often think that talking about a child's ideas is a waste of time - after all, there is so much he needs to learn! But once you get into the habit of having easy social conversations, you will see your child staying with you longer, paying more attention, and doing things more like you. A child who can stay in conversations will, in time, learn more and have the opportunities to use what he knows to learn still more and build stronger relationships with people.
Remember, your child will learn more from you if you are a play and conversation partner, rather than only a caretaker and "director." The following suggestions help many parents have more enjoyable, successful conversations with their children.
Communicate for a variety of reasons
Talk about anything - just don't do all the talking! If you think of conversations as making up a story or solving a problem, it is easy to let one friendly comment lead to another. Be sure to share the lead with your child. Talk sometimes about what he just said; at other times, about your own ideas. Don't end the conversation quickly by giving a superficial pat-on-the-back and saying simply, "Good talking!" Keep your child interacting by matching his ideas and words and giving him time to initiate and respond.
Communicate more for enjoyable social contact than to get something done
While there are certainly times to get things done, they are not frequent enough for your child to learn language and conversation. Research in early language development and our clinical experience shows that the more adults teach in directive ways, the more passive and less social the children become. When parents and other adults become more of a "partner" and less of a "boss" during conversations, children enjoy the time more and stay interacting longer.
Comment and wait
When you comment, just express what you think and see without demanding a particular response from your child. Comments are valuable because children cannot fail or give a wrong answer as they might if you ask questions. Any response the child makes is a "success" and can keep the conversation going if you follow your child's lead.
Reply to your child's comments
Without our continued attention, many children are not likely to get into a habit of talking with others. They often use their talk mainly to play alone. Even if your child spends a lot of time talking to himself, you can respond to his words and ideas and show him his talk gets your attention. Consider you own spontaneous replies as the "fuel" that keeps your child communicating.
Keep conversation balanced
It is normal for children to talk mainly about themselves, but it is important for them to talk about other's ideas as well. Help your child be accepted by society by learning to talk about other's interests as well as their own.
Demonstrate and point out the rules of social conversations
Some of those are: look and hold eye contact; communicate for a response; wait silently; make sure your words don't bump into other peoples words; watch their face to see if they are still interested. At the same time, show your child what not to do in conversations: Don't interrupt; don't ignore the other's message; don't ramble; don't communicate only to yourself; don't change the topic abruptly; and don't look away.
|Conversational skills are just like any other skill set: they sometimes need to be taught explicitly and deliberately developed. They take practice! As your child's parent, you are in the ideal place to actively work on your child's conversational skills - and see the benefits this will have in helping them make friends and get along with people outside of the home. As with any social skill, if you feel that you are not seeing the progress you would expect, talk to your GP or your child's teacher about a referral to a specialist such as a Child Psychologist or Speech Pathologist for more ideas.|
Jenni Pearce, Psychologist (2009)
Child & Educational Psychology
6 Edward Street, NORWOOD 5067 South Australia, Australia.
Telephone: 0407 726 332
Fax: (08) 8362 0332