You are Teaching Your Child Language Skills Even When You are Not Aware of it

You are Teaching Your Child Language Skills Even When You are Not Aware of it

There are many amazing things about young children. For instance, they go from being a totally helpless infant at birth to a much more independent toddler. They progress from needing an adult to turn them over to becoming an active crawler in just a few short months. And, even more amazing, they start life with no language at all and by age two are talking.

How does that happen? How do children learn language and develop the ability to communicate verbally with others?

As it turns out, parents have a lot to do with this amazing and extraordinary accomplishment. Most of the time you are making significant contributions to your young child’s language development without even being aware what exactly you are doing that is helping him or her become a talker.

I was watching a baby at a nearby table in a restaurant recently. When this cute baby who was about six months of age started babbling, several adults who were close enough to hear her started talking to her by making babbling sounds in imitation of her. Her mother leaned closer to her and started telling her what a good talker she was and talked to her as if she could understand the little girl. None of the adults in this situation were responding to the girl in order to “teach” her to talk; they were simply compelled to respond. But they all did the right thing.

All babies – no matter what country or culture they are in – start babbling at about six months of age. And they all use the same cooing sounds and repeat the same consonant-vowel combinations. Most will babble such sounds as “bababa” or “mamama.” But for babbling to develop further, infants must hear human speech.

In other words, they have to be exposed to people who are talking. As babies hear others talk, they babble even more. Soon, some words or sounds that could be words begin to be uttered. And by 10 or 12 months, there are sounds appearing that can be distinguished as words. But in order to become a communicator, infants have to engage in other activities aside from hearing their parents or other people talk.

For one thing, early in that first year, usually by three or four months of age, babies are able to gaze in the same direction as adults are looking. By the end of the first year, they are more skilled at this. That’s when something called joint attention begins between parents and child.

Joint attention means that child and parent are paying attention to the same object or event. When mom or dad labels that event and talks about it, good things are happening for language development. For example, if the child is in a highchair at the table and a colorful cake is placed on the table (out of the child’s reach, it is hoped), both the child and parent will look at it. Dad might say, “That cake looks delicious!” Then turning to the child, dad says, “Pretty cake!” Without taking her eyes off the cake, the child might say “’ake.” To which dad might reply: “Pretty cake,” emphasizing the pronunciation of “cake.”

When young children take part in this joint attention experience, they are comprehending more language (in this example, the child hears the words “pretty” and “delicious”), they are learning and may be producing gestures (both Dad and child may point at the cake), and they will develop their vocabulary quicker.

By being aware of the importance of a simple concept like joint attention, you can help your child develop her language skills much quicker and more powerfully. It’s one thing to talk to your child, but it’s quite another to make sure there is joint attention and that what you are saying refers to what you are both watching.

Joint attention and the language that goes along with it can take place many times a day. What this does besides what I’ve just mentioned is to also establish a common ground between you and your child. You are sharing an experience. By looking at an object or event together and then by you talking about it, your child will be able to figure out the meaning of many of your words – even if you don’t stop to explain each one. This leads to a richer vocabulary and something else very important in your child’s development — an increased attention span.

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Know Your Toddler’s Limits – and Plan Accordingly

Know Your Toddler’s Limits – and Plan Accordingly

I was watching a young parent in a mall recently. This father had stopped to talk to a friend. However, he had his two-year-old child with him. And it was very clear that his toddler was very quickly bored and wanted to move away from his dad to do some exploring on his own.

This father wanted his child to stand by him and be patient. But as his son kept trying to get away, the father became progressively more upset and angry as his young son did not want to stand quietly near him.

This dad hadn’t planned very well. He should have had some toys or objects to distract his son just in case he stopped to talk to a friend or decided to go to lunch.

Despite what some parents might think, toddlers aren’t evil little creatures constantly looking for chances to frustrate their parents. They’re just trying to grow and learn about the environment and how best to operate within their world. And a lot of times, they are not going such a good job – mostly because they have a short attention span. Neither yelling nor stern commands from parents will change that. They will still have a short attention span.

In living with a toddler, there will be many situations – say when you’re talking to a friend, traveling in the car, or having lunch in a restaurant – which require the use of distractions.

Distraction can be a fine art when thoughtfully used with a toddler. By simply drawing your child’s attention from an unwanted action or behavior to something more interesting, you can solve some immediate behavior problem or prevent a temper tantrum.

It is always best to know the abilities of your toddler – and to bring along some supplies which will suit his abilities.

The 12- to 18-Month-Old Toddler

At this age, distraction is most likely to be used in a very deliberate way. But it’s important to know the attention span of the normal child from 12 to 18 months. Their attention span ranges from a few seconds to about three minutes.

Children of this age can look at pictures in a book for a few seconds and may spend a few concentrated minutes exploring an unfamiliar object or toy. But they have a hard time dealing with confinement, so they will get restless and squirmy fairly quickly, which may mean one possible distraction is to get them moving.

Your best bet for distraction at this age is to bring along a new toy or one your child hasn’t seen for a while. More complex toys – with texture, sounds, and colors – will keep a toddler busy longer. You can also use snacks that are eaten one little piece at a time as a distraction.

The 18- to 24-Month-Old Toddler

At this age, the child’s attention span will range from about one minute to seven minutes. Since this slightly older toddler has a better ability to concentrate, she may sit quietly for several minutes with a book, toy, or video.

The best bet for distraction at this age is to use toys that inspire her to use her imagination. Dressing and undressing a doll, coloring on a sheet of paper, putting different shapes in a form board, or playing with simple puzzles can work well.

The 24- to 30-Month-Old Toddler

The older toddler’s attention span has increased from about five minutes to 15 minutes. Two-year-olds are continually gaining in concentration abilities, but remain highly distractible and move quickly from one activity to another.

The best ways to provide distraction now are to fill up a bag with surprises for your child to discover one at a time. Or let him choose several toys to bring along. But you should have that bag handy with several toys and other distractions. Other good distractions for children of this age include beads to be strung, stickers to be placed in a book, coloring books, and audiotapes with headphones which include a book that goes with the audiotape.

Have distractions available and you’ll never have to try to enforce patience or compliance with a stern voice.