5 Ways to Connect with Your Toddler
There's nothing more magical than connecting with your little one in interaction, but sometimes it can be hard to really 'get into their world'. This is made even tricker when your little person is having difficulties with their communication skills.
Here are five strategies you can use to help you connect today.
1. Follow their lead
This is probably the single most important concept to remember. Children learn best when they are having fun, so it's no surprise that it is also likely to result in quality interaction. Given the freedom to choose their own activities, they are most likely to engage in whatever it is that will get them there.
The key here then is to let them lead in their play/exploration. Your job is to go with them as they explore and honour their choices. Then show immediate interest whenever they interact with you. Respond with ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, with smiles and surprised faces. Then depending on your child’s developmental level, make comments and interpret their play e.g. as he runs a lego man over a cushion, you could say, ‘oh, the man is climbing over the hill!’. Connecting through child-led play is the best way.
2. Join in but don't interrupt
Joining in with their play can either sabotage your attempt to connect, or make it successful. Imagine if you were making a clay pot on a turntable, and someone came, sat down close to you and ‘joined in’ by taking the clay out of your hands and making it into a tea cup. That would be incredibly frustrating and you probably wouldn’t want to do pottery again with that person. Imagine, however, if they came in, sat down with their own clay and talked about what you were creating or that they came in and helped you by giving you more clay, water etc. They would be respecting what you were doing and showing you by not interrupting and/or going with your idea and helping you. The same applies to joining in with play. Go with their ideas, comment and interpret, but don’t change the idea. Avoid suggesting what they could do/what will happen next, rather comment and play in a way that encourages their own thought processes. They are much more likely to connect with you when they are not worried that you will sabotage their play.
3. Be a commentator
Like joining in with play, talking while your child plays can go one of two ways, either they don’t like the distraction or they love hearing that you’re paying attention and it adds to their experience. The way to end up with the latter, is to comment on what they are doing, exactly what they are doing. E.g. ‘you’re picking up the spoon… oh, you’re feeding baby! yum yum!’. Or you could delve even deeper to show you’re paying attention and comment on finer actions e.g. ‘you’re looking at the spoon, it’s shiny’. This of course depends on your child's understanding of words, but even understanding of key words can make this a success. It is also great to do with younger toddlers as they get used to listening to words and they enjoy your interaction as you join in but don’t interrupt (as above).
4. Copy them
This is an especially great tool for younger toddlers or those whose communication development is at this point. In my experience as a speech pathologist, imitation has been one of the most powerful strategies in connecting with a little one who may be finding it tricky to engage. It is as simple as… copying them! Copy their actions, their sounds and their facial expressions. The more accurately you copy, the more likely they are to notice you. Once the connection has been made, you could take turns to make the sound/do the action or evolve it into more complex play.
5. Be a toy
Cause and effect exploration is one of the foundations of play and for toddlers, it is the most motivating type of play in that stage. Cause and effect play is when something is done (cause) that will make something else happen (effect). E.g. jack in the box - wind him up (cause), he pops up (effect). The vast majority of interactive toddler toys follow this principle, from pop up toys (e.g. spin the wheel, the elephant pops up) to electronic toys (e.g. press the button, hear the sound). Once you understand this concept, you have a powerful trick up your sleeve! The idea is that when your child does something (it could be anything!), you do something fun in return. E.g. they poke your tummy, you go, ‘honk!’. This is also a great way to get them to do more of what they may have accidentally done, e.g. they accidentally say ‘baba’, and you pull a surprised face and say “BaBa! Yay!’. They’re then more likely to do it again.
Connecting with little ones can sometimes be hard, but having some tricks up your sleeve to get the interaction going can help get you there. Try out some of these strategies with your little one and enjoy the connection that you make!
Tags: Connection, connecting with your toddler, child, intereaction, speech pathology adelaide, speech therapy adelaide, speech clinic, speech practice, speech therapy clinic, speech pathology practice