The capacity to communicate is the ability and desire to connect with others by exchanging ideas and feelings, both verbally and non-verbally. Most children learn to communicate to get a need met or to establish and maintain interaction with a loved adult.
Babies communicate from birth, through sounds (crying, cooing, squealing), facial expressions (eye contact, smiling, grimacing) and gestures/body movements (moving legs in excitement or distress, and later, gestures like pointing.) Babies continue to develop communication skills when adults respond to their efforts to “tell” others about what they need or want.
Children’s communication skills grow by leaps and bounds across the first few years of life:
Respond to your baby’s gestures, looks and sounds.
When he puts his arms out to you, pick him up, kiss him and use simple words. “You want up.” When he coos, coo back. When he gazes at you, make eye contact and talk with him. These immediate and attuned responses tell your baby that his communications are important and effective. This will encourage him to continue to develop these skills.
Talk with and listen to your child.
When you talk with her, give her time to respond. Make eye contact on her level. This will communicate your desire to hear what she has to say. Ask open-ended questions: “What do you think about today’s rainy weather?” “Where do you think the rain goes?” “How do you think the rain helps flowers grow?” “Why is the sky so gray?” Talking with your child helps her see herself as a good communicator and motivate her to keep developing these skills.
Help children build on their language skills.
“So you are pretending to be a hungry caterpillar who wants to eat some food? What kind of food? Let’s name all the things you want to eat.”
Teach your child about non-verbal communication.
“Luis, do you see how Andi is holding her hands up to cover her face? She doesn’t like it when you throw the ball so hard. I know you can throw it softer so she will want to keep playing catch with you.”
Respect and recognize your child’s feelings.
Children are far more likely to share their ideas and feelings if they know they won’t be judged, teased, or criticized. You can empathize with a child’s experience, yet disagree with his behavior. For example, “I know you’re scared to sleep alone, but you need to stay in bed. Would you like some quiet music on?” Or, “I know you’re angry but you can’t throw the blocks. Here’s a pillow you can punch instead.”
Help your child develop a “feelings” vocabulary.
Provide the words for her experience. “You’re sad because Daddy left for his trip.” Keep in mind that feelings are not good or bad, they just are. Sometimes parents are afraid that talking about an intense feeling will escalate it; but many times the opposite happens: When children feel that that their feelings and experiences are respected, they are often able to move on more easily.