Watch what you say, your children are listening

2011-04-07 00:00

I WAS shocked when my four-year-old asked for some tea and then added: “Right at this very moment.” Where had he picked up such a phrase? As I mumbled, “Pardon?” My 14-year-old and eight-year-old started to laugh. “Mom, he sounded just like you.” It was then that I realised how much my speech patterns and vocabulary were impacting my children — without me even knowing.

The hardest part about improving a child’s speech is the realisation that they have generally learnt their speech patterns and vocabulary from their parents. The first way to help your child improve their vocabulary is by spending some time looking at and noting how you speak. Rule out words that you do not want your child to use and draw in some words that you want them to learn.

It is then time for you to start building and extending your own and your child’s vocabulary. Little minds are wired to learn language and they thrive on juicy words. Choose a relatively collected time when the children are attentive — meal times are often great as their mouths are full so they are more likely to listen — and then with great gusto, expression and enthusiasm, read notable poetry to them. Even a three-year-old can enjoy T. S. Elliot’s cat poems and poems from Alice in Wonderland. By reading the same pieces every day for a week or two the children soon start to join in with the reading and the new vocabulary is becoming engrained in their minds. They may not draw these into their speech yet but the words will be playing in their mind and you’ll hear phrases from the poems dotted within their play.

Once they become familiar with the readings you can begin to make a game of using these new words within your own vocab. As children imitate their parents, choose a few new words for your vocab and they’ll soon use them too.

Read good-quality literature to your child that is flowing with gracious and impressive language. We recently coined a phrase to from William Shakespeare’s Tempest to use in situations when a family member feels flustered. “Be collected; no more amazement: tell your piteous heart there’s no harm done.” It is ridiculous and overly lavish but it breaks the moment, causes unity, the children love it and they have a new store of words to draw upon.

We don’t realise just how much one’s speech impacts on others’ opinions and views of us. This is simply because we all subconsciously realise that what comes out of one’s mouth is what is actually swirling around in their heads and hearts. So when we hear someone answer in monosyllables peppered with words such as “like” and “nice”, we immediately associate them as not knowing much. If, however, one is able to give a vivid account or rendition of an incident we are drawn in and attracted to that person. This may not seem relevant to your five-year-old; however, before you know it he’ll be 15 and then 25, and, generally speaking, his speech style is not going to change much. His vocabulary may not matter when he’s in the sandpit; however, if the habit of slang, swearing and bland description is developed in the preschool he is likely to carry it with him throughout his life.

A child who has a wide and varied vocabulary is not only able to access and understand a variety of reading material and conversations but he or she is also interesting to converse with and is presented as one with knowledge.



• Joanne Madgwick is a parenting and educational consultant.



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