As with all skills, how to talk to young children is something that can be learned. Here are 5 top tips for you to consider in your interactions.
1. Keep questions to a minimum
It’s tempting to ask lots of questions to encourage children to engage in a conversation, and to extend their thinking and language, and whilst there are benefits to this with young children it can be counter-productive. One or two questions to open or close a conversation or when they would naturally appear in conversation is fine but asking a series of questions in quick succession can become overwhelming for a child and quickly turn them away from the conversation.
2. Let the child lead the conversation
Once a conversation has been initiated, let the child direct it even if it takes some unexpected turns! Conversation should be an organic, natural process so that the child doesn’t feel any pressure. The child is more likely to want to talk if they’re talking about what interests them in that moment.
3. Give plenty of time for responses
It can take much longer for a child to think of and formulate a response, so don’t be afraid of some pauses in the conversation. It can take 10 seconds or more for a child to respond and this is actually a really long time – try being quiet for 10 seconds now! Don’t feel the need to fill these silences but give the child the opportunity to think about what they want to say.
4. Model correct vocabulary
Even if a child isn’t being particularly forthcoming in a conversation, for whatever reason, you can still use opportunities to model correct vocabulary for them. This is especially the case for new vocabulary that has recently been introduced. Make sure you pronounce every word clearly and enunciate for the children. Hearing correct vocabulary is incredibly beneficial even if they’re not yet using it.
5. Be mindful of body language
It’s not just our verbal communication we need to be aware of. We can use our facial expressions and body language to put a child at ease and make them feel comfortable in a conversation. Make sure that’re down at their level, with open body language (try not to cross your arms or legs), make eye contact and don’t forget to smile!