The holidays are always an exciting time of the year for families. For many kids, this festive mix of joy and anticipation is due to the same thing that almost always gets kids excited: toys! For parents, this presents a unique opportunity to engage in meaningful communication during playtime. 

If you’re a parent, though, it’s probably been a long time since you’ve been excited to play with dolls, blocks, or action figures. That’s why we’ve developed some simple exercises that are designed to help seamlessly encourage an enriching playtime with your child. These exercises are great for all children, but they’re especially useful in helping you expand your child’s play repertoire and gain new language skills.

For kids, playtime is all about fun, exploring and learning. Here’s how you and your child can enjoy playtime together–and assist in encouraging their communications skills at the same time.

Easy Ways to Improve Communication During Playtime

The developmental age of your child will help direct which toys they are interested in playing with. Whether your little one is playing with a ball or coloring in a coloring book, it’s a great opportunity for you to do the same thing–building closer bonds and stronger relationships as you encourage the practice and development of more robust communications skills.

Here are six easy ways to help your child practice their communication during playtime.

Tip #1: Engage with your Child

Children of all ages tend to learn better when they are engaged in interactive activities that they enjoy. In other words: learning is easier when you’re having fun!

For parents, facilitating playtime can sometimes mean getting on the floor and giving your kiddo your full attention. Here’s what that might look like:

  • Put yourself at eye level with your child. Kids love to play on the floor, so this might mean ignoring couches and chairs for a bit. Spend some time at your child’s level. If you’re hovering above your child, it’s much harder for them to engage with you
  • Avoid giving directions or asking questions. Instead let your child start the conversation or play schema and go from there. Follow your child’s lead. Let your child begin the toy exploration and engage with them in whatever direction they choose to go.
  • Surround your child with toys that they find interactive and engaging. This will make it easier for your kids to play with toys that give them something to talk about! 

Tip #2: Notice Communication and Respond

You may not always know what your child is saying, but ignoring your kiddo’s attempts at communication can send the wrong message. Instead, make sure that you notice and respond to your child’s vocalizations, even if they don’t necessarily make a lot of sense to you. This teaches your child that their communication is important to you–and that’s a very important message to send. 

Here’s what that might look like:

  • Make sure you notice and respond every time your child vocalizes in a way that sounds like they’re trying to tell you something (and even if you aren’t sure). 
  • You can respond by talking about what your child is doing.
  • Make a comment regarding what your child is doing or what they are trying to communicate.

Tip #3: Make Sure You Take Turns

As the more experienced communicator between you and your child, it might be tempting to steer (or monopolize) the conversation. Being a good communications partner, however, means avoiding this inclination. Instead, place an emphasis on taking turns. This will help model listening and turn-taking for your child. Here’s what that might look like:

  • Make sure to wait until your child says words or vocalizes to respond. Let your child start the conversation. 
  • If your child isn’t saying anything or is reticent to communicate, use tip #4 below to start the conversation.

Tip #4: Mirror and Map

This is a two step process that’s designed to teach and model to your child more about how communication and speech work. By mirroring and labeling, you’re showing your child how language and communication works. Here’s how it basically works:

  • First, you mirror: You imitate your child’s behavior. If your child feeds a doll, then you feed a doll.
  • Second, you map: You label the action that you just took. If you and your child just fed a doll together, you can say, “Eat.” And that labels the action.

In general, only use the mirror and map approach when your child is not openly or readily communicating.

Tip #5: Expansions

This tip is designed to build on the communication your child is doing–to expand on the ideas that they’re communicating and show them how language concepts are built on top of one another. Here’s how it works:

  • First, you imitate or repeat what your child said. Then, you add a little bit more to it. Usually just a couple of words.
  • To be most effective, these additions should align with your child’s own communication goals. 
  • For example: if your child rolls a ball to you and says, “Ball!” You can roll the ball back and say, “Roll the ball!”
  • Make sure to use expansions right after your child has communicated. This will help reinforce the connection between what your child said and the expansion you offered.

Tip #6: Try One Method at a Time

Whether you’re actively trying to foster communication skills or just trying to make your holiday gift giving a little more engaging, this list can feel a little overwhelming at first. That’s okay! You don’t have to learn all of these new skills or start using all of these new tips at once. Instead, focus on one at a time. When you’re comfortable with one approach, you can begin to incorporate the next one.

Talk to a Speech Therapist

If you notice that your child has continued or persistent trouble communicating, it may be appropriate to talk to a speech language pathologist. Speech therapy sessions for children may be able to help identify any possible issues as well as offer solutions.

Contact us today if you have any questions about your child’s speech.