About talking and listening
Learning how to talk with and listen to other people takes time and practice. Your child needs to learn words, simple sentences and the ability to take turns in conversations, as well as your family’s rules about how you speak to each other.
There are a couple of things that might affect how children develop these abilities:
- Self-regulation: this is an important part of learning to talk and listen, and it’s more challenging for some children than others.
- Temperament: for example, a very social child might want to be involved in every conversation and have trouble listening. On the other hand, a child who isn’t as social will probably find it easier to listen but might find it harder to respond.
Learning to talk and listen
When it comes to learning about talking and listening, your child will learn from you. If you try to have conversations with your partner, your friends and your children in the way you’d like your child to talk with others, it’ll help your child to learn.
You can also teach your child by prompting, guiding and practising. Your child is likely to learn best when you tell them clearly what you want them to do. For example, you might:
- prompt your child by saying, ‘Please say thank you to Grandma for taking you to the park’
- guide your child by saying, ‘Sarah, if I’m speaking to someone you need to say “Excuse me”, and then wait until I’m ready to listen’
- have practice conversations with your child where you take turns asking questions and listening to answers.
Praising children when they’re communicating well will make them want to keep doing it. For example, ‘I love the way you waited for me to finish speaking before you started talking’. Or ‘You did really well with your pleases and thank yous just now’.
You might like to make some rules about polite speaking and conversation. It’s important to talk with your child about the rules so that your child understands what’s expected. You can also use consequences. For example, you might create a consequence like loss of privilege for rude language.
Positive talking and listening
Being able to talk and listen well involves:
- starting conversations
- knowing how to get attention in the right way – for example, by waiting for a break and saying ‘Excuse me’
- using eye contact
- taking turns talking and listening
- being able to speak clearly and in sentences that are at the child’s age level
- speaking politely, without talking back
- knowing when to stop talking.
Some children pick up this up quickly, and others might need a gentle reminder – for example, ‘Rani, please look at me when you’re speaking to me’.
Dealing with talking back
Your child might talk back when you set limits, discipline behaviour or give instructions. By talking back, your child is trying to give you their point of view. Some children also talk back to get a reaction from you.
You can manage talking back in a positive way. If your child talks back to you, the following strategies might help reduce it over time:
- Respond calmly and remind your child of any family rules you have about speaking politely and treating each other respectfully.
- If your child keeps being rude, you might need to give a consequence for the rudeness. This could be anything from practising another way to speak, to losing a privilege like screen time.
- If you laugh or give your child a lot of attention, you might accidentally reward your child for talking back.
Interrupting usually happens when children can’t control their urge to talk. But unless it’s an emergency, it’s important to help your child learn to wait.
If your child interrupts, you can try some or all of the following:
- Remind your child of what your agreed family rule is. Then continue your conversation until your child says ‘Excuse me’.
- When your child says ‘Excuse me’, try to reward your child with your attention quickly. Your child will see that if they do the right thing, they get what they want.
- Praise your child when they wait and say, ‘Excuse me’. This encourages your child to keep speaking this way. For example, ‘You waited until I finished my call before you asked for help with your doll. Well done!’
- If you have an important call or activity that really can’t be interrupted, try distracting your child with some special toys or an interesting activity.