Here we are living through this new reality, thinking how do we help our kids deal with so many adjustments—and that includes continued communication. We all want to know what can we can do to help our children communicate during these changes. Well, one thing is for sure: Change is a process, NOT an event. So is learning and communication. Let’s take these opportunities of increased leisure to make communication fun, consistent and realistic.
Yes, talk. The best way to learn something is by actually practicing that skill. The best way of teaching that same skill is by modeling that skill. Be a narrator. Narrate what you are planning on doing, while your doing it as well as while your child is doing it. While your child may not attend to just hearing you talk, he/she may show more interest if it involves a preferred toy, character figurine or even a snack. Encourage and praise your child for any and all attempts at communication. This can be a gaze, a sign, a sound, a word or a picture on their PECS book or AAC device.
2. Copy & Build
Whether your child communicates verbally, signs or uses low or hi-tech devices, when they say a word, copy it. Then, build on it by adding another word or two to make it a phrase. For example, if your child says, ”Play-Doh,” you can say “Play-Doh….want Play-Doh,” or “want blue Play-Doh.” As you build on your child’s word, you are also encouraging a two-way conversation.
3. Limit screen time. Make your own video/movie.
TV does NOT teach language. Nor do computer games or iPad apps. Those gadgets teach concepts. They can teach letters, or colors, or counting, or some new vocabulary. But language and communication are—by definition—interactive. Screens are not interactive. You are interactive, as are brothers and sisters, grandparents, friendly neighbors, other moms and that guy who makes funny faces at the checkout counter.
But if your child insists on screen time via your phone or iPad, then be the stars of your own movie! Videotape your child singing, dancing, even eating lunch, chasing the dog or playing with their siblings. Record yourself practicing a skill you want your child to learn. Play it back for them and help them imitate you. There is a lot of research on video modeling. Hit play and play it back, pausing to comment and praise, or just ask simple questions about the video. Kids love seeing themselves in action. Save the screen time for those moments when you are desperate for ten or twenty minute distractions.
4. Music and movement
Most children LOVE music, nursery songs, finger plays and just moving their bodies to a familiar tune or song. Choose your child’s favorite songs with gestures and model singing, while encouraging your child to sing along. You probably won’t have to ask twice because most kids love the familiarity and repetitive nature as well as the wonderful opportunity it provides for interacting with, laughing and praising your child. Remember to pause and wait, giving your child sufficient time to respond and fill in the rest of the words/pictures or gestures. Be creative and change the words to a familiar song while keeping the same familiar tune and rhythm. Just have fun!
5. Play to Learn—Learn to Play
Now that school and virtual instruction is coming to an end, families will have more time to engage in leisure activities. And while many kids crave structure and predictability, this time is perfect to work on generalizing the skills they learned throughout the year.
Modifying play/games or leisure activities can help your child participate in a game with their siblings, friends of various levels of development, as well as grandparents and other family members. For example, play “Simon Says,” but always use “Simon Says” and model as the directions are given. “Simon says touch your nose, feet, jump, etc..” This can help your child learn to follow directions or even communicate a request for “more” or imitate words as well as actions. Either way it’s fun and helps your child learn and communicate, listen and take turns.
Galina Kislin M.A., CCC-SLP is a licensed and certified bilingual speech language pathologist with over 20 years experience working with children. She is also a feeding specialist working with children on the Autism spectrum as well as other disabilities. She has worked in a variety of settings including hospitals, preschools, and private clinics.