Expanding Communication Circles

Jane Madell
February 3, 2021

As part of helping kids understand the need for good communication it is important to talk about the people they need to communicate with. Especially as kids get older, they need to realize that the world is bigger than it was when they were little. They need to know that they will need to be able to communicate with a lot of different people. 


Why do Kids Need to Communicate with a Lot of People?


Different people have different communication needs. Initially, kids communicate with their family circle. Usually that includes parents and possibly siblings. Since they all talk together daily, the parents are likely to modify their language to meet the needs of the kids. In other words, they talk at the kids level. If a child has a 4 year old vocabulary, parents, and likely siblings, will take at that level. Because they talk to their children all the time, they will be able to understand even if articulation is poor. As the circle expands communication may be more difficult. 

The next level may be other family members and neighbors. How often do they see the child and how good are they at adapting to the child’s level of communication? And how much should they have to adapt? And what is the role of parents as the circle widens? Are they interpreters or do they let the child work it out? 

As the circle widens, children need to communicate with someone at the store when they want an ice cream, at the library when looking for a book or checking one out, with the sports coach. The level after that is communicating with strangers. As they get older kids really do need to communicate with people they do not know at all, and it is important that they do communicate with anyone who can help them. 

Building communication skills builds self confidence, it helps them to learn to advocate for themselves, it builds executive function because they need to problem solve when they are having a problem communicating. “I’m sorry but I didn’t understand. Can you please say that again”  or “I want to be sure I understand correctly. Did you say…..?”


The role of parents in building the communication circle


When kids came into my office for an evaluation I usually would begin by asking the children questions.  “How did you get here today?  If they can’t answer, I would expand. “Did you come by car or by train?”  Often parents would jump in and say “Jane asked how you came today. Tell her we took the train.”  Is this helping? NO!!! And I would turn to the parent and say in a friendly voice something to indicate that I asked the child, not the parent, and make it clear that I was doing this to judge the child’s communication skills. 

It is very hard for parents to let their child struggle. Anyone who is a parent, whether or not they have a child with hearing loss or another disability, wants to jump in when their child seems to be struggling. If the parent knows that the situation is really above the child’s skills than they really need to jump in. But if it is borderline, they need to let the child try.

Parents are not always around. If a child is playing with neighbors the parent may not be there. When the child is in school the parent is certainly not there. So, it helps if the parent can help the child practice communicating on their own when they are present so, if the child really gets suck, the parent can help by giving hints, reminding the child to listen, (“Listen to grandma”), helping the child develop confidence, (‘What do you think she said?)”, suggesting the child ask for clarification if they didn’t understand, but not jumping in and taking over. This gives the child practice, helps build confidence, but it also helps the parent recognize the child’s communication difficulties so both parent and therapists can help build skills. 

Parents should be encouraged to help children expand their circles of communication through practice, and work to build confidence in communicating. 

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