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First Choice Allied Health Blog

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Seven Ways You Can Help Your Child’s Communication Skills Right Now!

There are many ways parents can help their child’s communication skills every single day at little or no cost.

Like many other Australian clinics, First Choice Allied Health have a waiting list for ongoing speech therapy sessions. Parents may feel like their child’s communication skills are slipping behind their peers and that they are powerless to stop it - but parents don’t need to feel powerless at all. There are many ways they can help their child’s communication skills every single day at little or no cost. And even once individual therapy becomes available, these tips work beautifully alongside formalised therapy.

Below, we list seven ideas we'd recommend parents implement at home right now.

1.    Spend quality time playing with your child

Through play with parents, children learn how to interact, share, take turns, pay attention to, and listen to others. These social communication skills help them interact more successfully with their peers as life goes on. Whether it is physical play or board games there is always something to learn from play time. We know you spend a lot of time with your child/children, but intentionally set aside 10-15 minutes per day, to play with just you and your child with no distractions (including putting your phone away). Use this time to have fun with your child, having this quality time strengthens the bond and relationship between you. 

It is also important to follow the lead of the child when possible. This is because when your child leads, they build communication skills and learn that they can influence things around them. You’re also spring boarding your interaction and play with them, because you are taking advantage of things that clearly interest them already. By engaging with them with activities they enjoy, they’ll be more likely to stay and play for a longer period of time. You can even make a point to talk about what games you played and what happened during mealtime conversations later in the day.

2.    Read to them, and with them, every day

When you read with your child you are spending quality time together whilst teaching them communication skills. If you read aloud to your child, you are modelling what fluent reading should sound like. You’ll also find that the books may initiate some interesting conversations about the characters, plot, or other related topics. You might choose to share your ideas about the book and from this your child will hear your thought processes and over time may mimic that pattern themselves.

Reading to and with your child can help develop their language, vocabulary size, communication skills, and their literacy skills. You can even act out what is happening in the book when playing with your child. For those with younger children, using books with rhyming, or predictable parts your child can fill in the blanks for, will help get them involved.

3.    Reduce screen time, where possible

Screen time typically involves the child being in a very passive state. We want our children’s senses to be stimulated by the real world around them. Young children learn naturally from their surrounding environment via physical activity and interacting with their family members and friends. This is fundamental to their growth and development in all areas – including communication. Every hour spent passively on a device is an hour they did not spend connected to the outside world. Parents should aim to minimise screen time each day and when it does happen, try to engage with them whilst they are watching or playing games and talk about what’s happening or what might happen next. For those children who have difficulty with stopping screen time, have something fun for them to do afterwards. To help with transitions away from screen time, tell them when it will be finished, use a timer, and stick to it. By being consistent and following through every time, it creates consistency and ultimately security for your child to know that you will do what you said you would do. 

4.    Model language for your child and engage them in conversation

Taking the time to engage in conversation is incredibly important. There is a lot of rushing around in modern family life but making the time to communicate regularly will directly impact your child’s communication skills. Make time to hear about the day's activities; be sure your child knows you're interested and listening carefully to what they’re saying. Make sure to balance questions and comments when having a conversation with your child, using comments will lead to more back-and-forth conversations.

Take advantage of the time during car trips or standing in line at the shops to talk with your child. It’s important to remember to talk with your kids, not at them. We want children to share ideas, opinions, and information, not speak in monologues to their peers or with us. If your child gives single word answers, or just "yes" or "no" answers, then prompt for more detailed replies. That means that you too should answer in detail when appropriate. This also includes talking about how we might be feeling in different situations and if we didn’t respond in the most appropriate way (such as yelling when we were frustrated), then talking through that. For instance, if you accidentally yelled at your child when frustrated, take the time to apologise to them and explain that you were feeling frustrated, and shouldn’t have yelled, and instead, should have taken some deep breaths to calm down. Children learn from watching what we do and how we act, by modelling both language and behaviour, your child can better learn to co-regulate and regulate their own emotions as they get older.

5.    Involve children in daily routines 

Utilise everyday interactions to create opportunities for them to communicate with you and about what is happening around them. Talking about seemingly mundane daily tasks is actually very valuable. You can talk about the washing as you fold and put it away with them alongside. Ask questions about who has the most socks to put away and why that might be. Get them involved in activities such as grocery shopping (giving them a list of items they need to get), helping to wash and put away groceries, stirring and mixing during cooking whilst talking though ideas, observations, and thoughts about the task at hand. By using everyday routines, you are simply building on what you’re already doing. Oftentimes we use similar vocabulary when talking about our everyday routines, and by doing so, your child can better understand these words and also start to anticipate what may be coming next.

6.    Have shared mealtimes to model the behaviour you want to see

Family mealtimes may differ from family to family, but they are a reliable forum for communication and a place where children learn to listen, be listened to, and take turns in conversation. Some parents choose to start dinner with a prompting question like, "What was the best thing that happened to you today?", “What was the worst thing about today?”, and “What was something else that you enjoyed?” and allow the conversation to flow from there., with each family member taking a turn (including parents). Talking about the highs and lows of a day can help encourage openness to talk about harder topics of conversation as your children get older. Dinnertime with family can be a haven from the hustle-bustle of everyday life. Your family can review the day that's passed and plan for the day that's coming. It’s a perfect opportunity to build self-esteem in children because they are listened to and contribute to conversation as an equal party.

7.    Take part in parent training programs

Parent training programs come in a variety of forms. There are free online programs such as the Triple P Positive Parenting Program which helps provide parents with strategies to manage behaviour and build stronger relationships. This program is recommended for all parents, regardless of if your child needs therapy or not. There are also parent programs that are run by individual clinics at a cost. Parents may choose to pay for these independently. For families who have NDIS funding, these are a great use of funding that might otherwise be untouched whilst the participant is on a waiting list for one-on-one therapy. These paid programs are often easier to get into than ongoing individual therapy and can still be extremely beneficial as a stand-alone course or alongside individual therapy. First Choice Allied Health run the Hanen More Than Words parent training course, which is designed for parents/caregivers of children who are 5 years of age and under with a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Autism and/or social communication disorder. Even for those children already getting individual therapy, parent training courses are still recommended.

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