Children spend many years honing communication skills. They watch and listen to everything we say and how we say it. They imitate us in their dual quest to learn and to be more grown up. Adults need to be intentionally interacting with children in ways that lift them up. Be aware of your interactions and try to avoid these common mistakes:
Mistake # 1: Using a sing-song or cartoony voice
Use your real, adult voice when speaking to children. Children need to learn proper intonation, inflection and vocabulary in order to become good communicators. They also need to learn the difference between television comedy and more serious pursuits. I have spent a career watch adults set the wrong tone and then get upset at the children for following suit. If you speak like you are starring in a comedy, they will not take what you are doing seriously. If you lower your vocabulary level, how will they learn new words? Just talk. No special voice needed.
Mistake # 2: Mispronouncing letters and words like they do
Children are imitators. They learn language by trying to duplicate the sounds they hear all around them from the adults in their lives. They do that from infancy. Cooing is the first attempt at the intonations in our language. Many parents chuckle when they realize their toddler has repeated a phrase that adults in the household usually say. When they mispronounce and then you imitate them, you’ve turned learning on its ear. If you say it, they think it must be correct. If they don’t hear the correct sounds from you, how will they learn them? Don’t lisp with them or make R’s into W’s or say the wrong word. Speak properly so they will self-correct. It can be so cute when they exhibit childlike letter pronunciations or use incorrect words. Smile. Enjoy. Speak correctly so they will learn to do the same.
Mistake # 3: Using facial expressions that don’t match what you are saying.
The majority of our communication is non-verbal. Other people read our facial expressions, tone and body language to determine our real emotions and meaning. The old adage says, “Seeing is believing.” That isn’t only true of dubious events. I will believe you are happy with me when you smile. I will believe you aren’t actually interested in what I said when you yawn. If you are not happy with your child’s behavior, your face needs to say so. Smiling while say, “Don’t hit your brother” sends a mixed message. It is okay to look sad or mad or frustrated. When you do, you are teaching your children to properly read other people.
Trust your child’s intelligence and capacity to learn from you. Be their example of how adults speak in the same way that you try to be their example of morality, honesty and other pursuits that you value.
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