When you ask your child question, wait. Count to 5. Then count to 10. Give them PLENTY of time to respond. If you think you gave them enough time, give them another 10 seconds.
If they usually respond with a quick gesture or automatic response? Prompt them gently, “Tell me more,” and then… you guessed it, wait again.
Many kids need time to process what you are saying. And THEN time to figure out what they would like to say. And THEN even more time to figure out how to say it (how to coordinate their lips, tongues, diaphragm and breath to make a sound that someone else will understand). This is hard work and deserves to be given the time and space to do it.
Step #2 Touch More
Touch is powerful. Gentle, loving touch from a trusted adult is golden.
Touch can be used like a flashlight, highlighting your conversation and gently inviting a response.
We all know the rush of getting everyone out the door in the morning. I've noticed our day goes so much smoother when I pause and physically connect with my kids before placing a demand on them. A simple touch on the shoulder or arm and then making eye contact, before asking my request goes a long way.
If it's time to put their shoes on, then try touching their shoulder, making eye contact. Pausing. “It's time to put your shoes on.” “Shoes go on your feet.” Touch their feet. “Will those wiggly toes fit into your shoes?” Touch their toes.
Yes, it takes a few extra seconds. And things can get complicated with more than one child, but it's doable. And worth it. And usually it reduces the time needed to get ready in the morning.
Getting out the door is often a stressful event in our house, so consciously slowing down and connecting over shoes or jackets with a gentle comforting touch can turn down the intensity of the morning rush in an instant.
Step #3 Get Moving
The park is a such a wonderful place to have a conversation! Slides, spinning and swinging all provide sensory input that can overflow into accessing speech. It’s no coincidence that most children utter their first words around the same time as they begin to walk. My daughter loves to swing and is just beginning to pick up the concept of numbers. Swinging is a wonderful way to explore counting. How many pushes would you like? How many pushes will it take to get you this high? How many pushes should I give you brother?
However your little one likes to move, bring in some silly conversation, singing or counting.
Step #4 Engage
What is your child interested in? Talk about it a LOT. And then talk some more about it. Read books about their favourite subject. Make books about their favourite subject.
My daughter fixates on certain subjects and she can repeat the same word over and over again. Honestly, it can take more patience than I think I have at that moment, but every time I make the effort to get interested in what she’s saying (for the millionth time) she ends up:
1. Feeling heard. 2. Expanding her thought process. 3 Expanding her vocabulary.
For example: S: Park? Me: Sorry, we can’t go today. S: Park! Me: I know you like the park, but not today. S: Park! Me: I know, but we can’t go today. S: Park!
(This is where it can get a bit rough and we could continue spiralling down the hole of: Park. No. Park. No. Repeat until meltdown.)
Instead, find a way to expand things. Add some variation!
Me: Are you sad we can’t go to the park? S: Nods head. Me: What do you like about the park? S: Pause. Me: Do you like the slide? Or the swing? S: Swing. Me: I like the swing too. S: Park. Now! Me: I’m sorry, not today, but maybe tomorrow. S: Morrow? Dad? Me: Yes, Dad can take you to the park tomorrow. S: Dad. Park. Morrow. She’s happy now and heads to another room to play.
So…. even though I could have stopped her after the 4th park, I kept at it and got more words out of her plus the mental connection between time and her Dad. Mom-score!
We have these types of conversations all day. Every question she asks is an opportunity to engage her.
Before, when my daughter could only say a handful of words, she would gesture the same sign over and over. If your child can gesture, sign or babble, then use the same formula. Keep expanding the idea using whatever form of communication works for them. Slowly and gently.
Repeating, or fixating, be frustrating for both, but if you take the time, get creative, ask questions and get curious, you can turn something frustrating into something beautiful.
Jen Stewart is a mommy of 3 amazing kids and a practitioner of NeuroMovement™ (or the Anat Baniel Method™).