It started with a simple idea….. “Let’s have dinner at the beach”.
Hours later, that simple idea ended with some serious life lessons. We ironed out some disagreements while working together, the art of negotiation and repairing conversational breakdowns. We even had a few lessons in physics along the way.
Believe it or not, this can actually describe the scene when any 2 people regardless of age decide to build a simple sand castle together.
Who knew so many interpersonal skills and verbal strategies could or would evolve out of a simple favorite pastime?
Not all people would identify the sibling arguments over a shovel or plan as practicing the art of negotiation to reach a compromise. Some might not see those tears of a toddler following a failed attempt to build the tower higher are actually expanding a base of general knowledge and developing coping skills for working through a disappointment. Just putting frustration into words can be a monumental task for those with communication disorders or language deficits.
Understanding another’s point of view is a skill that develops slowly over many experiences. In some instances it doesn’t develop very well at all, leaving a child at a big social disadvantage.
Kids are spending less time in unstructured play than ever before with more screen time than ever. There’s nothing wrong with organized sports, other organized directed activities or even some screen time. However, children still need time and experiences to develop their conversational abilities in order to reach social maturity. For some, these skills seem to develop naturally but it’s rarely, if ever, without a series of trial and error attempts to negotiate social situations that fine tune these skills. The more time engaging in conversation that a child has the more opportunities to grow those social skills.
As adults we can do a lot to enhance these experiences for our children even without any specific training.
By adding explanations and using a lot of self-talk about what and why YOU are thinking and doing what you are helps a child become aware of how people think. As this awareness grows children begin to further develop awareness of their own thoughts and thought processing. This is called theory of mind.
In this process of awareness, children learn how to understand that other people may have different opinions than themselves. As this more mature level of thinking grows a child gains the ability to talk through differences of opinion that cause misunderstandings or breakdowns. They also begin to understand how words can be taken in the wrong way with the growth of empathy.
When you interact with a child (from toddler to teenager) you can enrich the verbal exchanges of any activity by following a few basic suggestions.
- Try to use new vocabulary words in every verbal exchange. Use synonyms instead of ordinary simple words.
- Talk about things YOU notice/state the obvious/describe your own actions. When you think out loud a child can hear your thinking as a model to support development of theory of mind.
- Leave long pauses to let the child think and formulate their own response. Encourage discussions by asking for opinions.
- Verbally discuss/plan your game or project together in advance to allow for more opportunities to think through ideas in words before it actually occurs.
- Brainstorm multiple solutions for problems you anticipate or actually occur. “Let’s think of 3 solutions and then pick which one will be the best in this situation.”
- Use many descriptive words to describe your actions and thoughts about the activity you are doing.
- Compare/contrast different ideas or different outcomes to make decisions together.
- Try to provide explanations rather than just “good idea” or “because I said so” responses that don’t enhance the vocabulary or thinking.
Most importantly, DO NOT test with performance based questions such as “What’s this?”, “Tell me what ______ means” or “What color is this one?” Basically, any question used to just judge a child’s ability.
Move the conversation to a sharing of each of your ideas rich in comments and natural inquiry to discover together.
If you are each having fun, you are probably on the right track! Not to suggest there is a right or wrong way to interact. Some verbal exchanges are just more prone to develop vocabulary, thinking and social learning than others.
Natural learning opportunities are everywhere everyday….
…IF YOU LOOK FOR THEM.
Considering how verbal language skills lay the foundation for social skill development and how this all builds a base for literacy and academic growth, it’s a huge investment in your child’s future!