Monday, December 31, 2012

Conversational Therapy

So, I’m sitting on the couch in the home of one of my clients – a beautiful 4-year-old girl, whom I adore.  I have lugged in my huge bag of stuff – activities I have planned to target the language skills we are building.  But, as this is just after Christmas, as well as a vacation for her, she is full of things to tell me.  This is such a joy to me.  I’ve known this little girl since she was barely verbal and on this day, I can barely get a word in edgewise.  So, in addition to just enjoying her enthusiasm, I am reminded to “kick in” my therapist side and make the most of this in supporting and furthering her conversational skills. 

Following are some of the ideas I used with her and some others for beginning conversational partners. 

But, first:  by “beginning conversational partners”, I am referring to children who are just expanding their skills in this interactive way, but not yet proficient in maintaining or adequately holding up their end of the conversational thread. 

Basically, a beginning conversational partner:
·       Has some advanced language abilities (e.g., combines 3 or more words together, can answer and ask simple wh questions)
·       Has social awareness of others
·       Is able to reflect on situations and consider different perspectives
·       Is able to inhibit behaviors based on social and moral rules

And next:  conversation as defined as a two-way communication in which each person takes a turn at the right time, sending messages back and forth. 

Formally, the Rules of Conversation are:
·      Pay attention to the person you’re interacting with
·      Start conversations
·      Respond when others start conversations
·      Take a turn at the right time
·      Give the other person a chance to take a turn
·      Continue taking turns, staying on topic
·      Consider the other person’s words, body language and point of view
·      Clarify or “say it another way” when your listener doesn’t understand
·      Ask the other person for clarification when needed
·      Change the topic when suitable
·      End the conversation appropriately

There are a lot of rules and even adults have trouble following them all.  Just imagine how difficult it is for your child to learn them!  S/He is going to need your guidance and support to learn how to have conversations that are rewarding for both of you. 

So, then: the ideas.

1.  Decrease questions, increase comments.  This allows your child opportunity to develop his/her own thoughts further.

Many parents find themselves asking their children question after question in an effort to get a response.  If you find yourself asking your child many questions, you’re not alone.  It’s a natural reaction when your child has communication difficulties.  But too many questions may turn your child off conversations.  So, to limit the number of questions you ask your child, turn some of your questions into comments or statements.

Instead of a question                          -----             Try a comment

“What’s that?  Is that a bird?”            ------               “Hello, bird!”
“That’s a big truck, isn’t it?”              -----               “Big truck.”
“Do you like that juice?”                        -----              “Mmmm! I like this juice.”

Balance your questions with comments.  Here’s a general guideline:  For every question you ask your child, try to make at least 2 comments.

Questions can be conversation stoppers when there are too many, or when you ask questions that your child doesn’t have time to answer, that test your child’s knowledge, are too hard for your child to answer, don’t have anything to do with what your child is interested in, or answer themselves.

(okay now that I harped on reducing questions…)

2.  Question for clarification.  Help your child recognize missing listener information.  This doesn’t, however, always need to be phrased as a question.  For example, my client was telling me about sledding in the snow and about “the blue”.  So I tried, “the blue …?”.  This would be an example of a least intrusive prompt, but in this case I didn’t get clarification.  So I went on to asking, “Was it a blue sled?”  Reply, “no, it was a tube! A blue tube and …”, the conversation continued. 

3.  Redirect for topic maintenance.  Again, as an example with my girl, our conversation continued, but then took a turn into telling about a recently seen movie.  I acknowledged the information (“oh, you are telling me about …”), but then I redirected (“but we were talking about …, tell me more about …”).

4.  Add your own information on the topic.  Allow your child the opportunity to respond to your perspective.  If your child is talking about sledding, add comments such as “I liked when _____!”, or “It’s cold when the snow gets on my face.”  Then allow time for your child to reflect and try to act on your ideas.  Don’t be discouraged however if s/he doesn’t right away, but instead goes on talking about his/her own experience.  This is a more difficult task to take on, but will come with time.

Feel free to comment or send further questions!
Happy New Year and fun conversations,


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