Why We Should Have Meaningful Conversations with Children
One of the defining traits that sets apart human beings from other living creatures is our ability to communicate through language. Our verbal capacities are key to connecting with each other and this is true right from the time we take our first breath in the world. That’s why it’s important to share meaningful conversation with your children right from when they are infants and can’t talk back.
A study done by Megan Y. Roberts and Ann P. Kaiser in 2011 analysed the relationship between parent involvement and a child’s language development. The study identified four major areas which can make a world of difference in a child’s language learning. These areas include amount of interaction between parent and child, how responsive a parent is when a child attempts to communicate, the quality of the language that is spoken to the child, and the parent’s use of language learning strategies with the child (Roberts and Kaiser 180).
Having daily conversations with your toddler has a significant impact on your child’s language development. The more words a child hears on a regular basis, the larger the child’s vocabulary will become. Meaningful conversation with children, involving reciprocity of careful listening, appropriate responses helps the parents to support their child’s development especially in the areas of communication, cognition and socialisation.
Authentic conversations between you and your children set the stage for building family values, understanding one another, and maintaining great child-parent bonds. Here are a few ideas that will help to you strike meaningful conversations with your toddler.
One look says it all
To build a platform for a meaningful after school conversation, MacLaughlin advises that parents should connect with their children nonverbally. Look him/her in the eye, smile and beam at them with love. This warms up your relationship with your children without putting any demands on them. It also conveys the silent message that they have your full attention and can share anything that they would like to.
Ask open ended questions.
We aren’t looking for yes and no answers but a discussion. There are no right or wrong questions or answers, but parents should ensure that they ask children questions in a way that they can comprehend them, so that even if they cannot provide an answer, they can still think about it.
Open-ended questions often start with “why”, “how”, or phrases like “I would like to know more about”, “Tell me about”, or “I am interested in hearing more about.” The most interesting conversations with children are often those that result from a sequence of open-ended questions that move the discussion and reveal responses that you would never have imagined.
Here some easy ways to start an open-ended question with your toddler:
1. What would happen if…
2. What do you think about…
3. I wonder…
4. In what way…
5. Tell me about…
6. How can we…
7. What would you do…
Bedtime reading is not just about stories
There is much joy in sharing an adventure novel with our children where the characters almost become part of the family. But the most important element of bedtime reading isn’t the reading at all. The real treasure that comes from bedtime reading is the conversation between you and your child – conversation that goes far beyond the shared experience of the plot. Whenever possible, relate the story to your child’s or your own experiences. For example: ‘that reminds me of the time when we had visited the zoo, and we saw the monkeys eating bananas.’
Another fun way to connect is to enact stories with your child. Classic stories like The Three Little Pigs are particularly apt for this. Play-acting together encourages creativity, problem solving (“what should we use for the straw house?”), sequencing, and narrative skills.
In conclusion, remember that the conversations parents have with their children should be more than one or two word utterances. A parent should listen to their child’s communication efforts and respond by expanding on the child’s message (adding words to make it grammatically correct) or extending the child’s message (adding words to make a complete idea). If parents utilise these two strategies when talking with their child, they are able to help their child’s vocabulary grow.
Meaningful conversations with children support their learning about identity, attachment, belonging, relationships and understanding about the world, as well as their capacity for thinking. It also helps children to develop the communication skills required for active participation in their communities and for life-long learning.
As author and academician Catherine M. Wallace has so succinctly put it,