Do you often feel like you ask your child the same questions over and over again? Does this sound familiar: “What color is this? What are you doing? What sound does a cow make?”. Are you utterly exhausted from asking your child a million questions only to get a blank stare? If you’re nodding your head yes, then let’s talk about ways you can improve the quality of your “conversations” with your child, infants to big kids.
1. Count to 10
Stop talking to yourself and let your child initiate the topic of conversation. If your child is not yet using single words, watch for non-verbal gestures such as pointing. Then reward your child’s attempt to communicate and offer a meaningful response. If your child is using single words, phrases, or sentences stop and wait before rambling on and firing off multiple questions.
As an example, the boys and I went to the farm last week. Noah, my 1-year-old who is just starting to imitate sounds/words and point to desired objects, became very excited when looking at the animals and would exclaim “oooooohhhh” while trying to jump out of my arms.
Mommy: (Immediately without waiting to see if Noah would reach for the animals) What’s that Noah? Is that a cow? What does the cow say? Does he say?
(Oh my mommy, could you ask the poor kid anymore questions?)
Mommy: (Waiting at least 10 seconds after approaching the cows to see if Noah will point or attempt words/babbling toward the cow) Noah: Reaching, shrieking and saying “Ohhhhhh”
Mommy: Oohhhh (Repeat any attempt at communication so your child hears that what he has to say is important) There is a cow. He says “mooo”.
2. This isn’t a test!
If your child uses single words or is putting together two-word combinations, don’t ask questions he or she already knows the answer to. There is no point in testing his/her knowledge, as it does not lead to conversational discourse or new learning. Here is the same scenario played out with Xander, my three-year old, who initiates a topic and loves asking questions.
Xander: Look mommy a cow! He’s little. (The cow was actually huge. Xander is still getting the hang of opposites. His favorite phrase is ”It’s not too big for me.”)
Mommy: I see the cow. He is really big. What does a cow say? (Xander knows most animal sounds, including the sound a cow makes. Conversation over mom. Xander moves on to picking up and throwing rocks.)
Xander: Look mommy a cow! He’s little.
Mommy: Yes, I see the cow. He is really big, buddy. I think he may be hungry. Maybe he wants to eat lunch. (Good job mom. No questions asked.)
Xander: Ummm, he hungry. What he eat for lunch?
Mommy: I think he eats hay. Or maybe hot dogs?
Xander: He not eat hot dogs! Your silly mommy.
Instead of asking multiple questions, I kept the conversation going by adding new information, but on his comprehension level.
3. Put away Webster
Don’t ask your child questions that are too difficult for them. If they don’t understand the question they are guaranteed to lose interest. This seems like a no brainer, but I bet there are many times when you ask your child ridiculously hard questions. There is a difference between teaching your child a new vocabulary word and quizzing them about why the cow has black and white spots.
Pay attention to how many questions you ask your child tonight during dinner. Try to wait and count. Ten seconds can feel like eternity when we just want to fill the air with noise. Slow down, let your child talk and enjoy this moment. So, how did you do? What did you notice about your own communication interactions?
Next week I’ll be rambling on about tips for reading with your child. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite books in terms of langauge concepts and engagement. I would love to hear from you about some of your favorite children books to include in the post.