How You Talk with Your Child Is Important

Here are several ways Diann D. Grimm, M.A. CCC. Ed.S. recommends speaking with your child to facilitate more language and communication from your child.   I have provided a summary of each strategy.

1) Talk about the here and now.  Talk about objects, people, and events that can be seen, heard, and touched.  Say “I put the ball in the box” while doing the action.  Name objects that the child can see.  ” A dog.  I see a dog.  Look at the dog”.  Talk about people around you, e.g. “There’s a police officer.  She helps us.”

2) Talk about what is important and interesting to your child.  If a child is playing with blocks on the floor, you can say, “Those are big blocks.  This one is red.”  Common objects such as pots and pans, boxes, and rocks can be interesting to them.

3) Talk out loud about what you are doing.  Us simple phrases and sentences to describe what you are doing, seeing, and thinking.  For  example, while making a cake: “I’m putting in the eggs.  Now I”m mixing the batter.  Going around and around.  It needs more flour.  I’ll put in a little more.

4) At times, talk for your child.  By doing this, you give your child words and sentences to remember for future use.  If your child is playing, you might say:  ” That’s a big car.  Make it go.  It goes so fast.  There’s a little car.  It can go too.”  It is also important to put your  child’s feelings into words.  For example, ” I can see that  you are angry.  Tommy broke your truck.   We can fix it.

5)  Expand your child’s remarks.  If your child says “juice”.  You can say “You want juice.”  If your child says, “doggie  run”, you can say ” The dog runs fast”.  The use of expansion is a non-threatening way to model good language for your child.

6) Add a little more information to your child’s remark.  Add a new idea.  If your child says, “Truck here”, you can say “Yes, there’s a big red truck.” 

7) Don’t ask your child to repeat what you say.  You only need to provide good language models.  Your child will learn to say things you do-without pressure and at the child’s own pace.

8) Praise your child’s language attempts.  Keep talking and keep learning fun!

Kids’ Brains Benefit from Praise

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 1/31/12 

Washington University study reports that positive reinforcement may increase brain size. by Blythe Bernhard bbernhard@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8129

If your child forgets his lunch or struggles with school work, a little more loving might turn things around. 

Supportive mothers who practice positive reinforcement seem to help their children’s brains grow, according to new research from Washington University.

Brain scans show that school-age children of nurturing mothers have a 10 percent larger hippocampus-the region of the brain that plays a role in memory, learning and stress response-compared to the brains of children whose mothers were deemed less supportive.

The take-home message for working and stay-at-home parents is to praise children more than you scold them, the researchers said. 

“Parents might feel guilty because they’re working, and we work a lot as well,” said Dr. Kelly Botteron, a professor of child psychiatry and co-author of the study. “But when you’re home in the evening and you’re trying to rush through homework and trying to get dinner ready, if you remember to say a a couple nice, really positive things… I think a lot of parents could do that and it’s a practical thing that has very little risk to it.”

It’s long been known that orphans and other neglected children who are placed in loving homes can improve their behavior and health.  And while a link between nurturing mothers and their offspring’s brain growth has been established in rats, the study is the first to show the same anatomical process in humans.

As part of their ongoing research on childh00d depression, staff members watched how two groups of 92 children ages 3-5 interacted with their caregivers (usually mothers) during a stressful task.  One group of children had symptoms of depression and the others were assigned to a control group.

For the task, the mothers were told to fill out a questionnaire.  The child was given a wrapped present but told not to open it right away.  The  eight-minute “waiting task,” as it’s known, has been used by researchers as a reliable indicator of parental nurturing skills.  The task is thought to simulate situations at home, such as a parent distracted by cooking dinner while the child needs to focus on homework.

Researchers who reviewed the taped interactions rated the mother’s responses to their children’s behavior.  Mothers received points each time they praised the child’s patience or offered encouragement to not open the gift.

The researchers acknowledged they’re not getting a complete picture of family life, especially if Mom was having a bad day.  But they are confident that the results of the MRI brain scans on the kids, performed four years after the “waiting task,” indicate that children who have more supportive mothers also have bigger brains.

Children with less supportive mothers had a hippocampus volume that was 9.2 percent smaller than the children of more nurturing mothers.  In children with depression, the effects of nurturing were not as positive, and the researchers think the disease process has a greater impact on brain development.

The researchers plan to run second and third MRI brain scans on the children, who are now preteens, to watch for brain development over time.

Although the study wasn’t designed to look at fathers, foster parents or grandparents, the researchers said the positive effects of nurturing can come from any caregivers, which can be reasonably stretched to include teachers.

“If you know your child is in a difficult situation, to reinforce to them that you know it’s a hard situation but they’re doing such a great job, that’s the kind of parenting we would try to encourage,” Botteron said.

The researchers were careful to point out they’re not opposed to disciplining children or giving them boundaries.

“You should be supportive and nurturing, which is not the same as spoiling, and not the same as smothering,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Joan Luby, a professor of child psychiatry.

One local mom said it was exciting to hear that something she already believes in could have an effect on her children’s intellectual, and not just emotional, development.

“For a nurturing parent it’s both beautiful and frightening because many of us who spend a lot of nights wondering whether we’re doing everything we possibly can for our children, this falls into the category of one more thing to worry about,” said Danielle Smith of O’Fallon, MO, who has two young children and writes the blog extrordinary-mommy.com. “It sounds like a bonus to me, but I have to embrace the idea that what I’m doing is enough.”

Comment from Pam Hass, Speech Language Pathologist:  As we as caregivers and teachers of our children, in addition to being nurturing and supportive of our children, we also need to include our children in day to day conversations and make reading to our children a daily event.  Talking with  our children, listening  and responding to our children while they play or while we do our daily chores will help develop children’s language skills.  Reading to our children and talking with them about the story is very important in developing their language and cognitive skills.  

In my next blog, I will begin to list some language activities that families can do to stimulate both the understanding and expression of language.