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  • Writer's pictureAlison McDonald

Encouraging our Children to Take Turns in Conversation

Week One: Taking Turns in Conversations As we have discussed in previous Communication Corner publications, children learn language through conversation and interaction. Conversations should flow back and forth from one person to the other, without one person dominating the conversation. So, when our children have something to say, we want to respond in ways that encourage our children to take another turn in the conversation. The longer we keep the interaction going, the more opportunities our children have to learn language. We can do this by responding with interest and making comments. For example, when our children show us a tower they have built, we might respond with a short, simple comment such as “you made a big tower!”. Showing that we’re interested without putting pressure on our children to communicate, will encourage them to say more and take more turns in the conversation. How will you encourage your ‘Little One’ to say more in conversations today? Stay tuned for more tips on conversations during the rest of June’s Communication Corner.

Week Two: Open Questions Questions are an important part of communication and are helpful in encouraging our children to take a turn in the conversation. Open-ended questions, those starting with words like ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ are great for keeping the conversation flowing. Unlike yes/no questions (eg. “is this a fish?”), open-ended questions require more than one word for a response and give space for your child to provide an extended answer. For young language learners, some types of questions are easier to understand than others. The easiest questions for young children to understand are ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions. For example, “who are you playing with?” or “what are you eating?”. As children grow and learn more, they will become able to answer ‘when’ and ‘why’ questions. Think about your child and which questions are they able to answer. Is there a way you can bring more open-ended questions into your week to keep conversations flowing? Perhaps you could replace “did you have fun today?” with “what was the best thing that happened today?”.

Week Three: Choice Questions Asking choice questions can be a great way to move the conversation along and encourage your child to use words. A choice question is simply asking your child to choose between two desired objects. For example “would you like to play with cars or trains?”. When you first start asking questions like this, it is helpful to have the actual objects nearby as visual helpers. Point to each object as you suggest them so that your child can connect the word with the object. If your child is not quite using words yet or can’t say the words for the options you’ve given, they will still be able to point to the object they desire and participate in the conversation. As your child learns more words, they will be able to answer these types of questions without needing to see the objects. Are there ways you can incorporate choice questions into your daily routine? It could be as simple as choosing between the red cup or the blue cup.

Week Four: Matching our Turns Conversations we have with other adults are usually nicely balanced, with each person talking for roughly equal amounts of time. If one person did all the talking, we would probably feel quite uncomfortable. It’s the same in our conversations with our children. To give our kids the best opportunities to learn language, we want to have balanced conversations with them. We want to avoid dominating a conversation and instead add space for them to talk and participate. This means that the turns we take are similar in length and speed to our children’s. Our children might use shorter sentences than we would usually use. If we can use sentences of a similar length to our children, we help them understand and process what we are saying, and allow space for them to contribute. For example, instead of saying “you need to wash your hands because they are covered in dirt”, try using two short sentences such as “your hands are dirty,” “let’s go wash them”. What other ways can you encourage your child to take more turns in your conversations?

Written by Bec Speech Pathologist Newcastle Speech Pathology

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