Communication development and your child (1)

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe

Communication is a fundamental human right.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Communication refers to all means by which information is transmitted between a sender and a receiver.

Often when people think about communication, they think about talking and listening.

However, we communicate even when we do not use words.

We can use the tone of our voice, our facial expressions, gestures and the way we move and hold our body (body language) to communicate with each other.

How does communication develop?

Communication begins right from birth. Parents understand the needs of babies from the way they behave.

Crying tells us they might be hungry, thirsty, frightened, sleepy or in need of a nappy change.

As children grow older, they learn to express their needs through facial expressions, gestures (pointing and nodding) and sounds.

Children learn about talking through interaction with the people around them.

This can be with family members, their friends, other adults such as teachers.

The importance of the talking you do with your child cannot be underestimated.

Even babies start to tune into and remember the sounds of words, even if they don’t usually begin speaking until around one year.

Children who have parents who talk to them more tend to have better language skills, and this is linked to academic success.

What are communication milestones?

From birth and into early childhood, the communication skills of children typically develop at a rate that is astounding.

When your baby is born they are helpless and dependent on you for everything.

Yet they already communicate.

When your baby is born one of the first things they will do is cry.

At this stage your child cries when anything makes them uncomfortable – when they are hungry, cold or tired.

But very soon they develop a cry that you can understand.

There is one cry for “I am hungry”, another for “I am tired”, and another that says “I want to be held”.

Your baby begins seeking out your eyes and interacting with you in the early months of life.

Around six weeks of age, they develop a smile to express pleasure.

Slowly over the first year they learn to do many different things to communicate – they laugh, they lift up their arms to be picked up; they cry when you put them down, they push their food or the breast away when they have had enough.

They learn to reach, point and wave.

At this stage, non-verbal communication is key to their communication and is the basis of their later language skills.

It cannot be emphasised enough how important these non-verbal skills are in the development of later language.

Interacting with your baby and teaching them non-verbal ways to communicate create the foundation for their language skills.

Pre-verbal skills that are significant for later language skills are imitation/copying (fosters cooperation as well as social interaction), joint attention (encourages adults to engage with child), eye contact, turn-taking, attention and listening, smiling (fosters social interaction), anticipation (develops understanding of situations and awareness of gesture and facial expression), play, facial expressions and pointing/gestures.

The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana.