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How children learn to communicate

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Who Are Deaf > Chapter 4: Basic communication skills > How children learn to communicate

Although a child communicates from birth, at first he does not realize he is doing so. He moves his body, makes sounds, or changes the look on his face because of the way he feels. For example, he might cry because he feels hungry or wet. Slowly, he sees that his messages make things happen. When he cries, someone comes to find out what is wrong. When he smiles, people smile back. So he begins to send messages to make things happen.

Communication is a powerful tool for getting what we want or need and understanding what other people want or need. You can help a child begin to communicate by responding to his movements, sounds, and looks on the face. This helps him learn that his actions have an effect on others.

Let your child take turns

A woman signing to her child.
That's a ball.

Taking turns helps your child develop two-way communication skills. When he is older, this will help him learn how to make conversation with other people.

Here, Kwame's mother Hola helps them get started.

A woman points to herself as she signs to her child.
Can I have the ball?
Hola's face shows she is asking a question.
A woman signs to her child.
Thank you, Kwame. Good job!

Your child will learn even more if you can keep a give-and-take going between you.

A woman and her child roll a ball back and forth to each other.
When Kwame is ready, Hola rolls the ball to him.

For example: Hola waits until Kwame is looking at her. She gets him interested and engaged by raising her eyebrows, smiling, and shaking the ball.

HCWD Ch4 Page 35-2.png
Kwame rolls the ball back to Hola. She smiles and claps her hands...
HCWD Ch4 Page 35-3.png
...and rolls the ball
back to him.

Now Kwame knows what to do. He and his mother are taking turns.

A woman raises her shoulders and extends her hands in surprise.

Then Hola changes the game to keep Kwame's attention. She hides the ball inside a box. Notice Hola's face. How would your face look if you were asking, "Where is the ball?" without using words?

HCWD Ch4 Page 35-5.png
Hola waits
while Kwame
crawls to the
HCWD Ch4 Page 35-6.png
Hola smiles and claps her hands again when he finds the ball.

As you see in these pictures, basic communication begins when a child is very young. Communication does not have to include words.

To encourage your child to take turns

Every time you take turns with your child it will be different. Here are some general guidelines to make taking turns successful.

To begin:

  • Get your child's attention and let her know you are ready to play.
A woman touches her child's arm.
If your child does not respond in any way, try giving her a prompt, like a touch on her arm, to remind her it is her turn.
  • Let your child take her turn first. You can then respond to what interests her. But if you have to wait a long time, go ahead and begin yourself.

A woman speaking as she rolls a ball to her child.
Here it comes!
Wait until you have your child's attention before you take your next turn. Then try to take about the same amount of time for your turn as your child took for hers.
  • Your child will know that you noticed her action and liked it. She will now try to use it again to get a response. When your child makes a sound or a sign and gets a positive response, she will want to make more sounds or signs.

When you respond to your child, try to:

  • copy her sounds and actions (if she says "ga...ga," then you say "ga...ga").
  • continue things that she likes (rolling the ball to her again).
  • add to what she does (like making her look for the ball), to keep her attention and to help her learn new ways of playing.
HCWD Ch4 Page 36-3.png
All done?
Allow your child to stop whenever she wants. At first, taking turns may last only a minute or two. But soon your child will want to take turns for a longer time.

As children grow, they will take turns more.