The Power of Words: Start Speaking With Your Children!

Did you know that by age 3, children living in poverty Image of Wordshouseholds hear 30 million less words than children living in middle and upper class households. Additionally, children living in low socioeconomic households hear 15 million less words than children living in middle and upper class households. This language gap, is believed to be widening. Finding opportunities throughout the day to speak with your children, is one of the foundations for each child’s short-term and long-term language and cognitive development.

People use devices to ensure they walk at least 10,000 words a day. What is we develop technology that tracks how many words we use daily, to ensure that children hear the necessary 21,000 daily words. Developing and distributing technology, is most likely, at this point, unrealistic. Therefore, giving parents with newborns and toddler simple tools that they can use while speaking with their children, is realistic. The following are three skills parents can use to support their children’s language and cognitive development:

  1. Find Opportunities to Speak. Find opportunities to speak with your children. There are moments throughout our day and night that we can use with them. While walking down the aisle of Target, describe and narrate what you see and are doing. For example, “We are walking down the long aisle. There are blue, white and green soft towels.”
  2. Find What Your Children Are Interested In. What are your children’s interests? Find out one or two things he is in to, and talk about it. Ask open-ended questions about his interest(s). When he begins to talk about his interests, actively listen. When you actively listen and hear the details of what he is describing to you, paraphrase back to him what you heard. Then follow it up with another question.
  3. Take Turns Speaking. Good conversations include at least two individuals, and ensures that they take turns speaking. Another excellent place to encourage and practice the art of conversation, is in the car. While taking your children to school, appointments, and lessons, speak with your children. First make a comment, or ask a question. Allow your children to respond with a comment or question.

We may not have an app on our smart phones, or another device to track the words we use daily, but practicing speaking more, focusing on your children’s interests, and take turns while speaking are simple tools we can all use to strengthening our children’s language and cognitive development. We can also share these tools with the parents of the children that we teach; with the families that we conduct monthly home visits; with the families that have therapeutic sessions with us, and even; with the employees that we supervise and manage. The socioeconomic inequalities that children are born into can have long-term effects in their lives. While this is true, there are simple tools and resources, that can we can use to close this gap, and ensure that all children have the same long-term opportunities.

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