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Teaching Kids the Art of Conversation

These are the 10 conversation skills all kids should have by first grade

Children aren’t that great at the art of conversation. Sometimes they talk so much you wonder if they’ll ever stop. Other times you ask about how their day went and you get a single syllable word. But if the chatter is constant, or conversely,  if your child seems quieter than other kids their age, how do you know if they have age-appropriate conversation skills needed to interact with people outside your home? After all, conversations involve talking, but it’s so much more than that

How Can I Help My Child Master the Art of Conversation?

Kids develop at different speeds, and helping them build confidence is foundational to their developing any skill. Dr. Leela R. Magavi, M.D., a Regional Medical Director for Community Psychiatry in California, advises parents to model good conversation skills while remaining patient with their kids. In addition to reading and creating stories with their kids, Dr. Magavi encourages parents to engage their child’s thinking skills.

“Explaining details behind why you make certain decisions can help children improve their ability to process and reason,” Dr. Magavi explains. “And using words to describe feelings as a family can help children practice voicing their emotions.”

But don’t be afraid to have some fun with things as well. “It can be helpful to tell jokes and riddles,” she continues. “I advise parents to ask their children several questions and to encourage their children to ask questions as well.” Modeling active listening skills can help kids see one of the most important parts of functional conversation in action.

 

What Conversation Skills Should My Child Have By First Grade

In her work with children who experienced typical development as well as those who experience developmental delays, Dr. Magavi has seen that kids are usually able to develop the following conversation skills by the time they reach first grade:

  • Share understandable stories
  • Listen to stories
  • Ask follow-up questions
  • Describe things in a detailed manner 
  • Understand the majority of what they hear at home and school 
  • Pronounce most sounds correctly
  • Utilize rhyming words
  • Utilize some numbers 
  • Understand right from wrong 
  • Understand how others perceive them

How Can I Tell The Difference Between Shyness and a Developmental Delay?

Many kids aren’t comfortable talking to other people, especially when interacting with new people or in new social settings. Dr. Magavi notes that shy children may avoid eye contact or conversation at school but may have little difficulty engaging with close family members and friends. 

“Children with developmental delays may exhibit similar conversational skills regardless of whom they are conversing with,” she explains. “Additionally, children with selective mutism or social anxiety disorder may prefer avoiding conversation. However, children with developmental delays may express distress when they are unable to communicate with others.” Parents can pick up on these communication cues by observing facial expressions or hand gestures.

What Can I Do if I’m Concerned About My Child’s Social Conversation Skills?

Fortunately, schools are well resourced to assess and assist children with many types of language development delays. Dr. Magavi advises parents to discuss any concerns with the child’s teachers and pediatrician as soon as possible. Schools can conduct speech testing as well as test their child’s hearing, which has been connected to speech delays.

”Early intervention can increase resources for the child at school and expedite improvement,” Dr. Magavi assures.  “Many teachers attempt to individualize teaching to help children who are experiencing receptive or expressive speech delays.”

In the stimulus-rich environment of the classroom and with adults trained in child development watching closely, your kid will probably have little trouble acquiring conversation skills if they start school a bit behind their peers. Affirm the excellent conversation habits you do see your child exhibit, and enjoy the darndest things your kid is bound to say.