More than words

Communicating! More than words.

Behavior is communication too!
With this title in mind, lets think about behavior as your late-talker communicating with you.  And, lets consider how responding to your child’s nonverbal behavior (and/or nonverbal communication) can help build verbal communication. When we talk about behavior here we are referring to what your child is doing other than talking; their actions. Lets explore this in the context of increasing back-and-forth interaction in play where your child may not be using words, but is nonverbally communication things to you. Like so many of the concepts presented on this site, this skill set can be put into practice in a range of  daily situations (mealtime, chores, daily routines, getting ready to go out, etc.). “Play” is just a great “first” place to practice the skill set. Then, after you feel comfortable with the skill set in play,  you can transfer the interaction style to other scenarios, as you are able. First, we will start by establishing a temporally defined playtime for you and your child. A playtime of 10 to 20 minutes, dedicated to you and your child is a great place to start.

First, choose an area that is conducive to play. This could be a corner of a quiet room, a favorite play space or table; it could even be inside a child’s pop-up tent! What makes a space a good play place is a space that  is:  

  • Relatively free from distractions; does not have a lot of other toys about, or a TV/electronics going on in the background, is  not a noisy environment or distracting.
  • A comfortable place with easy access to the objects of play
  • A space where the play partner can easily be at the child’s level physically; the adult should be close to the child’s head level
  • A space that has boundaries that encourage your child to remain in proximity to you (i.e. a corner, a play-tent, an an alcove, etc.).

Next, bring out one or two toys that your child would find fun and motivating. We will want to employ the principals of environmental arrangement that we have learned about from other LTF tutorials. One goal of this exercise is to give you an opportunity to watch your child in a new way.  In an active way, and in a way that you will continue to include in your future interactions with your child.  It may sound funny, but we are not going to be concentrating on “talking”, rather we are going to learn how to watch for our child’s lead, what their actions tell us, how their facial expressions gives us information, how their body language gives us directions!

All right. You have your conducive play space and one or two fun toys. Good. For this exercise, we want to refrain from talking. Minimal words and some exclamations are fine, however be conscientious not to ask questions or verbally direct, and to be much much less talkative that might typically be the case. Later, when we’ve learned to recognize and respond to our child’s nonverbal communication we will, of course, talk with our play!  For this first learning exercise, say very little or nothing.

Be at your child’s level physically. Be at a good play angle; either across from them or at a 45 degree angle. Watch what your child gravitates to in play, then imitate their action and watch for their action for your next lead. Watch what your child does and follow it with a similar action. Your child’s action and your actions should be loosely matched. You are going to let your child “lead the play” and your role is to copy their play action by doing  what they do with the toy(s). For example, if your child is “splashing” water, then you splash water. If your child is putting a toy car in the garage, you put your car into the garage. As you follow what your child is doing, you will  better understand how your child plays. You will have the opportunity to be “in” their play. You will be establishing a nice back-and-forth; a nice nonverbal communication. 

You don’t have to have an agenda. Just observe, follow their lead, wait again, and follow their next lead.  Enjoy being with your child and notice how they respond when you let them “be the boss” and your actions following on their lead. Do not be discouraged if at first your responses seem to be be less noticed than you might like, or if you feel as if you are barely slipping in your “turns”. This is not uncommon. With more exposure to this type of play and as your child discovers that you actually enrich their play themes, the interaction typically improves.  The toy choice has a significant positive impact. (Please see the tutorial on toy choices. You will find toy choice both fun and effective.)

There are additional steps to this skill of being aware and responding to your child’s nonverbal actions. These steps will be very supportive of your late talker’s development and talking.  One of these skills is learning how to expand/extend your child’s play repertoire. Another  is how to overlay meaningful language. And, of course, using environmental arrangement. These skill sets will be topics all on their own. For now, put your “talking” aside for a play session or two and really participate in the play action and interaction with your child! Let them be the boss. Watch, imitate, participate, wait again, and then start the cycle over.

Being aware of play at this level will so enrich verbal and nonverbal communicative interactions. Words will be  more powerful when integrated within the scaffold of meaningful and motivating actions of your child. Please feel free to let yourself continue this exercise for several play sessions, until you are comfortable with this type of interaction, and then add language. Your child will enjoy it. Consider the following questions after you have practiced this exercise may be helpful for some parents. Remember, as you contemplate these questions you are thinking particularly of your child’s nonverbal comunication mode.

  • How and what is your child communicating with their actions and behavior?
  • What were obvious ways your child communicated with play and with their actions?
  • What were subtle ways your child communicated nonverbally? (body language, facial expressions, and actions)
  • What are somethings that you understood that others might not?
  • Did your child make requests? What did they request? You? Things? Help? Attention?How did they do it?
  • What did your child play and communicate best?
  • What were you unsure of in the play scenario?
  • When did you have the best play connection?
  • How did your child seem to respond to you letting them lead with out any verbal directive or requisites?

                                          Enjoy your child everyday! Good things happen when you play!