I recently saw a young mother pushing her toddler in the cart at the grocery store. The woman had been talking to her little daughter all through the store, pointing out things they had passed, asking questions like "What color are those tomatoes?" and talking about what they would do when they got home.
Unfortunately this is becoming a rare occurrence. All too often, the parents I see are tuned in to their cellphones, not their own children! It seems parents have stopped talking with their young children. This causes them to lose out on the eye contact, facial expression and overall feedback that is essential for early communication development. Young children require time and one-on-one feedback in order to build their language and cognitive skills. The most basic skills are not being taught by example, and society is falling prey to the quick response that our computer generation has become accustomed to.
Be prepared to put down your cellphone and look them squarely in the eye as they share their thoughts with you. Communication begins as soon as a baby is born. The way you touch, hold, look at and talk to babies help them learn your language, and the different ways babies cry help you learn their language — "I'm wet," "I'm hungry," "I'm tired," "I hurt," "I'm overwhelmed.," and so forth. "Talk to your baby whenever you have the chance," the American Medical Association advises parents. "Even though he doesn't understand what you're saying, your calm, reassuring voice is what he needs to feel safe. Always respond to your newborn's cries — he cannot be spoiled with too much attention."
And you can't introduce books too early. When reading a book together, which should be a daily activity, ask your child to name or describe the objects or talk about what the characters are doing.
Advice from the speech experts: "Talk while doing things and going places. Point to familiar objects and say their names. Use simple but grammatical speech. Expand on words. For example, if your child says 'car,' you respond by saying: 'You're right! That is a big red car.' " Play word games like "This Little Piggy" or "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" and encourage your child to do the accompanying motions and perhaps some of the words. Count the steps as you go up or down. At whatever age your children start talking, let them know you are interested in what they are saying by repeating and expanding upon it and asking them to repeat what they said if at first you do not understand them. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association urges parents to reinforce communication efforts by looking at the baby and imitating vocalizations, laughter and facial expressions.
"Talk while you are doing things," the association suggests. "Talk about where you are going, what you will do once you get there, and who and what you'll see." You might say things like, "Now we're going to put on your socks," "We're going in the car to see Grandma," or, "When we get to the playground, I'll push you on the swing."
Ask questions that require a choice, like "Do you want milk or juice?" or "Do you want to walk or ride in the stroller?" (Too many city children are transported in strollers well beyond the time they can safely walk and run. Young children need to exercise their bodies as well as their minds.) Help expand your child's vocabulary by talking about what is done with various objects or why a particular food helps to build healthy bodies. Sing songs and recite nursery rhymes, and encourage your child to fill in the blanks.
Avoid verbal frustration. When your children try to talk to you, give them your full
attention whenever possible. And before you speak to them, make sure you have their
attention. And remember; put away that phone for undivided quality time!
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