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This section contains some general advice which will support you with early interactions with your infant or young child.

Singing songs with your child is an easy and fun interaction! Songs are a playful way to learn language, develop shared attention, help memory skills, and help children follow instructions. They help build interaction skills with finger play, hand and body movement and rhyming. Action songs and nursery rhymes are also great for supporting learning signs.

Children often enjoy ‘filling in the gaps’ if a word is missed out in a song, e.g. ‘twinkle twinkle, little…………..?’.

Great songs to start with are “The Wheels on The Bus”, “Row Row Row Your Boat”, “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” and “If You’re Happy and You Know it” – you can often find them on the internet if you don’t know the tune, but remember to sing them together without the screen as well to help your child develop communication and interaction skills.

Tablets, TVs and phones – ‘screens’ - are becoming increasingly popular with children. Whilst they can be useful and educational when used correctly, they should not be used to replace interaction.

If a child talks to a screen, it can’t talk back and help them to learn.

Recent studies have found that:

  1. Toddlers who were exposed to more handheld screen time were more likely to have delayed expressive language skills.

  1. Toddlers who watched more videos said fewer words.

To make the most of screens and technology, they should be used as tools to help engage your child in language-filled interactions. 

Top Tips for getting the most from screens:

  • Try to limit screen time to around 30 minutes per day
  • Use screen time as a platform for interaction – share time with your child when they are playing or watching, talking about what is happening e.g. ‘she’s running’ and commenting on what you can see e.g. ‘that’s a big red car’
  • Only have the TV on when you are watching it together – turn it off so that it is not ‘background noise’
  • Use your phone or tablet to take pictures of your child playing and then look at them together, engaging them in conversation about what they were doing ‘I took some pictures of you building! What were you building?’
  • Watch musical videos such as nursery rhymes, and sing them together without the screen too
  • For older children, watching together can provide opportunities for developing prediction skills by asking ‘what do you think will happen next?’ and inference skills ‘why do you think he feels angry?’
  • Encourage vocabulary development by explaining new words

 

Reference: Zimmerman, F. J., Christakis, D. A. & Meltzoff, A. N. (2007). Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years. The Journal of Pediatrics, 151, 364-368

Not all children find interacting with other people easy. There are lots of different reasons for this.

All children can build on their interaction skills with support – here are some ideas of how to help build connections

Join in! The most helpful thing to try is joining in with what your child is interested in (whatever it is!). Follow their lead. Try not to imitate everything, like a mirror, but match your activities together, sharing your attention to the same things.

Don’t worry about eye contact if it is difficult at the moment.

People games work well for building connections. Try peek-a-boo, making funny faces, tickling, chasing, physical fun like bouncing and swinging, and simple turn-taking games.

Ideal objects are bubbles, balloons, balls, cause and effect toys (simple slides, lights and sounds), and first musical instruments.

Action songs are great for building interaction – repetition can become familiar and reassuring. Try pat-a-cake, row row your boat, if you’re happy and you know it.

Simply being together and sharing space can be so valuable, without a plan to teach anything. Skills will build gradually and naturally.

“Burst pause” sequences can help build anticipation of interaction, and engagement. These are when you do something that engages your child, then hold a pause for a prompt to do it again.

Good activities for this are hiding games, ready steady go, making interesting sounds, or trying pausing in between a line of a favourite song – join in with what they enjoy.

Accept any form of response – a movement, sound or facial expression – and treat it as a request to do it again. If you don’t get a prompt at all, carry on, it’ll come!

Repeat activities over and over again – it may feel boring, but familiar activities really help children to learn skills. Routines can be very reassuring.                  

Keep it fun!  If you show that you are enjoying an activity, this helps make the interaction more successful, keeps it going and demonstrates the skills you want to build.

Looking at faces gives babies and children the chance to learn about other people, as they begin to understand facial expressions, body language and how sounds are made. Looking and watching another person is also useful for a child learning to copy actions and sounds. Eye contact is often an important part of non-verbal communication, and is sometimes used to show other people that you are listening.

Some children find eye-contact difficult and uncomfortable. They may prefer eye contact to be very brief, or to look slightly away from your face. This is okay. Never force a child to give eye contact.

Supporting eye contact: general advice

When playing, get down on the child’s level so you are face-to-face. This makes it easier for them to look at you. This may mean sitting or even lying on the floor!

When you are playing, remember to include little pauses where you stop what you are doing and wait for a couple of seconds. This is a good chance for the child to give you eye contact to show that they want you to carry on. 

Repeat each game a few times, so that the child slowly learns what it is you want them to do, and understands what is coming next.

As the child finds it easier to redirect his or her attention, it may help them to look at you, if you gently call their name.

Activities to encourage eye contact

  • Bubbles: Wait for the child to look at you each time before you blow any bubbles. If necessary, call their name and hold the bubble pot up to your eyes. Enjoy looking at the bubbles and popping them together.
  • Peek-a-boo: Hide your face with a scarf or bib, then pull it off. Keep smiling and looking at the child as you surprise them.  You can use lots of different objects to hide behind: a towel at bath-time; a bib at tea-time; a book or duvet at bed-time; a hat, or sunglasses when out and about.
  • Balloons: Blow up a balloon and pinch the end to keep the air in.  When the child looks at you, let the balloon go so it flies around the room. 
  • Tickles: Tickle the child’s tummy until they begin to giggle, then stop and wait for eye contact before carrying on. 
  • Mirror games: Smile and look at the child in the mirror. Pull funny faces, wave or tilt your head to keep their attention and make it fun.  If the child has learned to copy, they may be able to pull funny faces too.  Don’t forget there are suitable mirrors all around – in the car, at home, and even shop windows.
  • Chasing games and Hide and Seek: Peek out at each other around corners. 
  • Action Songs: Sing songs together such as ‘Round and Round the Garden’, ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ or ‘Incey Wincey Spider’. Once the child is familiar with the song, stop singing occasionally and wait for eye-contact before continuing.
  • Noisy/Wind up toys: Make a noise with a toy or wind the toy up and watch it moving together. Encourage the child to give you eye contact before you wind it up again.
  • Funny faces: Use funny glasses, hats and masks. Put them on and off yourself and the child and encourage the child to look at you and in the mirror.
  • Binoculars/Telescope: Make binoculars or a telescope from old cardboard tubes. Look at each other through the tube.
  • “Ready Steady Go” games: Encourage the child to look at you before you/they do an action such as pushing them on a swing, rolling a ball, knocking a tower of bricks over, sending a car down a click clack track.

Make praise specific

Instead of ‘well done!’ or “good boy” and so on, make it clear what you are praising e.g. ‘that was a great ‘k’ sound’ or ‘I liked that you used a ‘where’ word in that sentence!  

Being specific, e.g. “that’s good listening” can help children know what to do next time.

Praise effort as well as getting it right

As well as providing praise when children achieve, children need praise to keep them motivated and to encourage them to keep trying e.g. You tried really hard to remember your ‘t’ sound today.'

Keep praise realistic

Whilst it is important to provide lots of praise, unrealistic praise or praise that is ‘over the top’ can set high expectations and put pressure on children.

Instead of ‘that’s the best sentence I’ve ever heard!’, try I can tell you tried really hard to make that a good sentence!’

Instructions are usually most effective, both for listening and for behaviour, when they are positive.

Saying what you don’t want also tends to make children focus on that – try this for yourself: 

“Don’t think about a blue car”… what are you thinking of?!

Instead of telling a child what not to do, focus on telling them what they can do instead. 

E.g. “Don’t run” is a negative – try saying “let’s see good walking!”

“Don’t drop it” – try saying “hold on tight!” instead, or “keep holding it like that.”

“Stop touching” – how about “come and see this” instead?

You can combine the two things e.g. “That’s too loud. Can you use your quiet voice?”, “You can’t hold the knife but you can hold this spoon.”

Remember that showing what you want is also really helpful e.g. “like this!”

This also gives you a brilliant opportunity to give praise!!

This is much easier said than done, but it can make a huge difference!!

Some babies have dummies to help them settle. It can be a difficult habit to break if a baby uses a dummy for too long.

Tips to avoid problems later

Increase the time your baby has without the dummy – this will give them more time for smiling and babbling.

Try to use the dummy as little as possible e.g. at sleep time only.  

It is much easier to wean a baby off a dummy than a toddler!

Always remove your child’s dummy when he/she is making noises, talking or playing.

When your child is upset, try to find out why and distract him/her with something else first instead of offering the dummy.

Never dip the dummy into anything sweet - this leads to tooth decay.

Don’t ‘clean’ the dummy in your own mouth - this can pass germs to your child.

Tips to help you both break the habit 

When you decide to stop dummy use, carefully choose a time when you and your child are well and happy.

Be prepared for your child to be upset for a few days but try to be strong and not give the dummy back!

Don’t replace the dummy with a bottle – many babies are able to start using a cup from 6 to 12 months old.

Make sure that family and friends know what you’re trying to do or they might undo all your hard work.

Try to explain to an older child that dummies are only for babies.

Leave the dummy at home when you go out. Swap the dummy for a special toy or present.

You can say you’re going to give the dummy to Santa or the Dummy Fairy.

There are books written for children about giving up dummies - ask at your local library e.g. ‘The Last Noo-Noo’ by Jill Murphy.

This link provides more information: https://ican.org.uk/i-cans-talking-point/parents/do-dummies-affect-speech/

Contact Us

For more information or if you have any questions please contact andrea.arnold@nhs.net

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