Traditionally, children develop their social skills by observing their family and those around them. They listen and pick up words, turns of phrase and social etiquette from their daily interactions. Regular exposure to different social situations allows children to develop a bank of conversational behaviours to draw upon. For various reasons, some children might take longer to do this than others, ranging from shyness to a lack of focus and self-control, or simply different developmental needs. This can manifest in issues with continuing conversations and understanding how to correctly manage these interactions. Some tips to give our kids a boost in this area are below.
Use An Object To Indicate Who Is Talking
One of the most useful tools for children is understanding the importance of one person speaking at a time in a conversation. This can be hard for children to grasp as they can be eager to share their thoughts all at once. Using an object as an indicator for who is currently talking, i.e. who they should be listening to and engaging with, can be very useful in visualising this for them. Consider taking a rubber ball or a stick and pass it back and forth as each person speaks, this will help them value the different sides of the conversation.
Explain The Topic of The Conversation
It can be hard for children to grasp initially that there is only one specific topic at hand, which is why they don’t find issue with sharing their thoughts on other things. This can quickly divert into a tangent so give them a hand which this by explaining what is being talked about at the start of the conversation, and continuing to reinforce it throughout by repetition. If they are old enough, consider writing it down for them so they have something to refer to throughout – they’ll be encouraged to engage with the topic more if they feel confident about what is going on.
Emphasise The Importance of Non-Verbal Conversation
Many of the aspects of conversation which we take for granted may not be obvious to children. Every conversation we engage with is informed by a number of things other than just the words that are said – subtleties in facial expression, difference in tone and inflection, small body movements or gestures all contribute to a full picture of the conversation which might be very different from the words if they were written down. Encourage children to ask if they have any questions about this and as they start to pick up on it themselves they will be able to include it in their own actions.
Include Visual Elements
Most children respond strongly to visual cues as they are easier to engage with, keep their attention and can be crucial in providing easy to grasp context to complex ideas. If you are sitting down to talk with a child try to include something like a picture book, a painting, a film or even visual cues from around your home to help illustrate the conversation and connect your points together. It may seem obvious, but conversation is about communication. The goal is to understand one another and visual cues can be a useful shortcut to close these gaps.
Repetition is the key to learning. The easiest and most consistent way for a child to learn new behaviours and incorporate it into their life is to have plenty of opportunity to practice them. Get your friends and family members on board with your efforts so they can encourage conversation using the same methods. Develop a progress and reward system for the child’s efforts so that the adults in their life can work together to celebrate developments and areas which have been improved. Encourage the child to use their new found skills at every opportunity, such as being responsible for going with you to greet everyone who comes to the door. You’ll soon find that further prompting isn’t necessary and the sense of progress will give the child the push they need to make real development themselves.