© NSW DET 2007
Communicate positively with
children on an ongoing basis
Use language style that is
appropriate for child’s age,
developmental stage and culture
To communicate appropriately with
children we need to be able to meet their individual
How to identify a child’s individual needs
We need to use information gathered about the child to ensure that interactions with the child
meet their individual requirements.
There are many ways of
gathering information about children in order to guide our
interactions and play provisions.
You need to develop your observational skills to be able to gather key information about
individual children. We are often very good at picking up on
other adults’ reactions during
interactions but are sometimes less skilful in seeing and interpreting children’s behaviour.
Sometimes this is difficult as we cannot rely on children using sophisticated language to tell us
what they want, and some of the cu
es children use may be quite subtle.
We need to ‘tune in’ to children in order to make sure our interactions are appropriate to their
individual requirements. In this way we accord children the respect they deserve and can be
sure that interactions and pr
ovisions we use will interest and stimulate individual children.
What is consultation? It is the process of:
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asking people if they want to be involved in an experience
working out how an experience is going t
o be organised
working out roles and responsibilities
assigning roles and responsibilities
Consultation is a normal part of life and is a way to ensure that decisions are shared and
people are committed to the action being taken.
We consult with other
adults all the time but do we do it with children?
Regardless of our age, we all like to be consulted about the things happening around us,
because being asked:
indicates that our opinions are important and valued
increases our self
promotes a sense
of ownership and responsibility
provides a wider scope
creates mutual respect
How can we do that in a childcare situation?
Children, no matter what their age, make choices. Even infants as young as two months, who
have not yet learned
to verbally express an opinion, can show preference for one toy over
another. The older children get, the more personalised ideas and interests they possess.
If the adults working with them do not recognise these ideas, the children may become
to participate and even resentful at being forced to do things for which they show no
The following suggests some strategies that you could use. You may find that the strategies
identified for infants and toddlers are applicable to the older age gr
oup, but the process may
Consulting infants and toddlers
Pay close attention to all body language. This includes facial expressions and movements.
Use simple directions.
Use common language they will recognise.
Allow choice but do not overwhelm the
Do not rush the child for decisions.
Remember: A choice between two things promotes independence. When the child is
presented with more than two things to choose from, however, the child can become
confused and overwhelmed with the responsibility of cho
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Consulting older children
Use group discussion.
Have suggestion boxes.
Hold brainstorming sessions.
Ensure children are confident enough to ask for experiences or changes to an
Provide children with choices and
let children make the final decisions.
If we use consultation with children regularly, and observe their reactions to the experiences
that are offered, we can be guaranteed to be running a programme that is successful in
meeting their needs.
se of language
Use language style that is appropriate for the child’s age, developmental stage and culture.
Competent carers use their knowledge of the typical sequence of development, as well as
knowledge of individual children, to inform their decisions
about planned and spontaneous
provisions in the program. The language style you use with a child should also be based on
Overview of language development
Language development is influenced by a complex interplay between physical matur
cognitive development and social interaction. In order to develop speech, the muscles of the
jaw, lips and tongue must develop sufficiently to make the various sounds that make up a
particular language. Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky both recognised
in their developmental
theories that the development of language and cognition (thinking) go hand in hand. Social
interaction also plays a large part in the development of speech as it is through verbal and
verbal interactions with others that the ch
ild learns about communication and verbal
Communication has an expressive component and a receptive component.
communication is the methods that people use to communicate with others e.g.
gestures/signs or speech.
tion is the skills involved in attending to and
cognitively processing the communication methods of others in order to understand what they
You might remember how children develop language competence from your previous studies.
If you have bee
n working with children for some time, you will certainly have practical
experience from which to form a model of the order in which children learn to understand and
use language. We can read about the typical sequence of language development in any
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hensive child development text. Below is a very brief overview which you may find
Overview of language development
Typical stage of language development
As early as five weeks, and for most by three to four months, babies
‘cooing’ sounds during face
face interactions with adults
first ‘conversations’. These are mostly vowel sounds.
First six months:
By the fifth or sixth month, babies will carry on long babbling
conversations with their carer. They use many consonants eg bububub or
dadadad. At about nine months, the sounds not heard by the baby in the
mother tongue they hear used around them begin to
drop out of their
expressive jargon and
At about 10 to 12 months, many babies engage in what sounds like a
pretend kind of speech. They will come out with what sound like long
complicated sentences complete wi
th expression except the ‘words’ are
unintelligible. This kind of speech is called ‘expressive jargon’. At around
12 months, infants can understand words and simple requests. Their
receptive language develops earlier than their expressive language.
Around 12 months, many infants will start to use single words. Sometime
after this they will begin to use holophrases (one
word sentences) that
express a whole thought. By 18 months, most infants will be using
between three an
d 50 words consistently
24 months: two
During this time children start to use two word utterances, mainly
consisting of nouns with a verb or an adjective attached. At this age
children may have trouble producing some sounds. As the child’s mou
and other organs of speech develop their speech sounds usually become
2½ years: telegraphic
At around two to two and a half years old, the toddler begins to use a
new style of language called ‘telegraphic speech’. The child’s sentenc
contains only the essential words
all of the little words have been left
out. For example, the child may say ‘Mummy go work car’ for ‘Mummy is
going to work in the car’.
3 years: complete
The child’s language gradually becomes more adult
ke in sentence
structure and sound production. Gradually, children begin to fill out their
sentences and include all the words previously left out in telegraphic
speech, and begin to speak in complete sentences. Children’s sentences
may still have some gra
regularisations such as
‘I goed to my school today’.
By the time children reach their third birthday, their language skills allow
them to communicate effectively with adults and other children. They
are sometimes difficult to understand because their pronunciation of
some words is still developing. They have
learned the art of conversation
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but, because they are egocentric, what they are talking about may not be
on the same topic as the person they are talking with. They talk about
what they want to do, who will do what and what will happen next. They
ning the rules of grammar, and their vocabulary is rapidly
schoolers use language creatively, sometimes make up
their own words and enjoy the sound of words. For this reason they
enjoy poetry, rhymes and jingles. They also begin to apprecia
generated by language and love to hear and tell simple jokes.
Children have a very good grasp of language by five years of age. Their
use and understanding of language becomes far more complex. Children
also develop the skills of read
ing and writing. In middle childhood
children become aware of the different ways we use language in
different contexts and can look beyond the literal to appreciate the
deeper meaning of language. Their appreciation of language
humour becomes more re
fined and joke
telling becomes a practised and
Understanding the typical sequence of language development is a solid foundation in knowing
how best to provide for children’s needs.
You need much more than this, however, to meet
the needs of individual children. Real children rarely fit neatly into rigid developmental
frameworks. We need to know what kind of language we should use with each child which will
best suit where the child i
s at present and which will best facilitate her to her next stage.
Carers need to know each child as a unique individual to appreciate the individual differences
in the development of their language. We observe and interact with them to get to know their
wn particular language development profile.
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What are some of the influences on language development that could account for such
differences in children?
The type of language environment the child has experienced may vary along the following
r there is encouragement from adults
whether the child has a particular facility with language
the child’s personality type
whether the child has communication difficulties
whether the child has a sensory deprivation
deafness, which may mean
developing a different means of communication such as sign language.
whether the family speaks more than one language
It is up to you to adapt the language you use to suit the needs of the child. Use language that
the child can easily understand and which follows up on their interests.
Use key words of meaning to a child
What are ‘key words of meaning’?
All children use words that have particular meanings in their family culture
words which may come fr
om their home language (a language other than English) or words
that are used by the individual child or family to express their needs.
These are the words that are important in making sure children feel secure that their needs
will be met consistently by
the adults who are caring for them away from their home
environment. You need to be aware of what these words are and their significance to the
Imagine that you are in a situation where no one understands that you need to go to the
you use do not seem to mean anything to those around you.
Now imagine that you are a toddler who has only recently developed your toileting skills. You
need the toilet
You are not sure where the toilet is or you know that you will not be able to get
down by yourself. At home, your family recognises your body language which tells them when
you need to go and because they know you so well they understand approximate times when
this will happen. They also understand your attempts to use langua
ge to express your needs
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even though this usually comes out as sounding like ‘to
ta’. Does this give you any ideas about
why it is important for carers to understand and use key words of meaning with children?
verbal communication is
appropriate and relevant
It has been estimated that up to 97% of meaning is carried by the non
verbal aspects of
language. Body language, posture, facial expression, gestures, touch and phatic language (eg
‘mmm’, ‘ohhh!’, ‘r
eally?’, and so on) provide vital information during an interaction.
We also need to allow time to spend listening to the child, to appear relaxed and interested,
and to ensure that there are spaces provided in the physical environment which accommodate
uality interactions between adults and children.
When you are communicating with children you need to be aware that your non
language is very important in providing children with information and feedback about the
meaning of the communication
as well as your involvement in the interaction. Children need
to see a posture of involvement where the adult faces the child and gives full attention and
eye contact. This will show the child that you are interested in what they have to say and that
re prepared to spend time developing the interaction.
Following are some aspects of non
verbal language which you could adapt to use with children
at the appropriate level for their individual stage of development.
First, face the child
you may need to kne
Then, as you are communicating with the child:
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appear relaxed, but not bored or uninterested
give the child time
give the child interested eye contact
use facial expressions appropriate to the context and topic of the interaction
decide on appropriate
personal space and touching
use gestures where necessary
use minimal encouragers and phatic language to encourage the child to sustain the
Note: Examples of minimal encouragers are ‘I see’, ‘Oh, really?’, and ‘Go on’. You say them to
te to the person who’s speaking that you’re listening and are interest. Examples of phatic
language are ‘How are you?’ and ‘How do you do?’
you ask these questions not because you
really want to know how the other person is but because you want to acknowle
Ensure interactions are frequent,
caring and respectful
Communicating with respect
Everyone needs to feel respected by the people around them. To have others listen and show
interest in our needs, thoughts and dreams is very importan
t to our happiness and self
confidence. Only when we feel respected do we feel confident to express our personalities
without fear of rejection or ridicule.
Children particularly need to feel respected in their interactions as this is the time where they
ill develop their ideas about themselves as communicators and as people who are deserving
Frequent, caring and respectful interactions
Children gain their understanding of the social world and their place in it from what they
experience. If adu
lts respond to a child frequently with warm, caring and respectful
interactions, the child will build an image of themself as someone who is cared about, who has
worthwhile ideas and who is interesting to others.
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What kind of behaviours should we use in ou
r interactions with children that show them that
we care about them and are interested in what they communicate?
As a sound foundation, we need to make sure of our motivation. Children are very quick to
recognise when they are being patronised or when comm
unication is not genuine. In
everything you do and say, you need to show children that you enjoy being in their company
and are interested in their communications. Making time to listen and respond to each child is
more important than almost any other aspe
ct of our work with children.
Some of the ways you can ensure that your interactions with children are frequent, caring and
respectful are outlined below.
Spend time with each child
Make time to spend with each child in both planned and spontaneous situati
ons. If you are just
beginning to work with children you may need to structure this into your planning until you
become more skilled in time management. Over time, you will develop your abilities until
frequent, quality interactions with individual childre
n become a natural part of the flow of
every day. Do not forget that this applies to all children, including babies who cannot yet talk,
children who are not able to communicate freely through speech and children with a first
language other than English.
ommunicate interest and respect
Use your body language to show your interest and respect. Non
verbal communication, for
example personal space, facial expressions and body posture, gives the child a very clear
indication of your involvement in the interact
ion. Lean into the child, kneel or crouch down so
your face and eye level are similar, use appropriate facial expressions and encouragement to
show you are engaged in what the child is communicating.
Follow up on interactions
Refer to the interaction at
another time. Provide appropriate resources that show the child
you have taken note of their interests and share appropriate communications with others. For
example, tell other children about your conversation during a group time.
Respect children’s privac
Remember that children have a right to privacy. If a child has revealed something sensitive to
you (apart from child protection issues) you should respect the child’s right to confidentiality.
Never trivialise a child’s communications or pass on this inf
ormation to others without
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What does it mean when we say an
interaction is ‘caring’?
It means more than just listening. It means that your interactions show the child that you care
about them as an individual. This means that you look beyond wh
at occurs in each isolated
interaction and try to put them all into the context of the child as a unique person. You need to
build a picture of each child you work with. Every interaction you engage in has the potential
to supply a new part of the fascinat
ing story that is a growing, developing human being.
Caring interactions are those where you use your knowledge of the child to recognise their
individuality in your responses. You may respond to similar interactions in many different ways
depending on the
child, their personality, their interests and what is happening in their life.
This is responding with care.
Creating a positive environment
The environment and equipment are only part of the overall environment. The caregiver is the
Children in your care will constantly look to you for support, encouragement, love,
information, advice, praise, discipline and acknowledgment as well as the meeting of their
Encouraging good habits
How we respond to th
e children will affect how they interact with the rest of the environment.
If we show interest and are actively involved in experiences and activities, then the children
will follow our lead.
There are several ways that we can create a positive environment
through our interactions
listen to what they have to say
make eye contact when you or they are talking (please remember that in some
cultures this may not be appropriate)
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speak warmly and enthusiastically
value their work by puttin
g it on display
encourage and guide children to recognise and solve problems in appropriate ways
allow children to play an active role in setting up and maintaining the environment
be aware of ensuring that activities are child
centred, rather than carer
be positive in our language
both verbal and non
recognise and accept children’s emotions
follow through on children’s requests and interests
provide advice and suggestions, but allow them the final decision
treat them with warmth and respect
treat other staff members with respect
value the skills that others can bring to a service
staff, parents, students,
volunteers and children.
Interacting with enthusiasm, playfulness and
Enthusiasm, like yawning, is contagious!
n ‘catch’ enthusiasm from others. The way people around us respond to situations and
to life in general affects our responses.
Do you know someone who inspires you with his or her genuine enjoyment and zest for life?
I have a friend who makes everything w
e do together more enjoyable simply by her belief that
‘it will be fun’. She expects new experiences to be great and enters into the spirit of things so
wholeheartedly that everyone else enjoys themselves more too. Her interactions with me
show that she th
inks my involvement adds to her enjoyment.
I think this friend models enthusiasm, playfulness and enjoyment. I love to be around her and I
enjoy life more when I’m with her. Not only that, I become more adventurous to try new
things for myself and more det
ermined to take time to nurture and enjoy the really important
elements of life.
Children, too, need to have this sort of mentoring in order to develop the kind of emotional
strength that comes from a deep belief in the importance of their play. All human
s need to
play. Play helps to develop resilience
the ability to ‘bounce’ back or to readily recover from a
Resilience is one of the most important attributes a person can possess in dealing with the
stresses of life and for coping with setbacks an
d disappointments. There is no quality of life
without time spent in enjoying our individual interests.
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Our interactions can be heightened by enthusiasm or dulled by a lack of enthusiasm.
Responding to a child’s interactions with enthusiasm and enjoyment s
hows them clearly that
they are important and powerful. They make an active contribution to the relationship you are
developing with them.
specific and non
Cultural differences in the use of non
There is one point that is worth keeping in mind. There are many cultures that have different
expectations and taboos in the use of non
verbal language, for example, not touching anyone
on the head, avoiding eye contact as a mark of respect, acceptabl
e touching or contact
between genders, nodding as a sign of listening and respect rather than as a sign of
agreement, and many others. It is important that you do your best to find out what is suitable
for each child and take care to use relevant and appro
An important aspect of working with young children is to address issues of social justice.
Sexism involves the power of one gender over another. As we should be aiming to maximise
the individual life experience and potential of every chi
ld, the promotion of non
behaviour and gender equity should be a priority in children’s services.
When you use language you are providing a very powerful model. Children learn from what
significant adults in their lives do and say. Of course
, the way you organise and facilitate play
experiences, space and allocate time is very important in ensuring that all children have fair
access to a wide range of experiences in a service, but your interactions send equally
significant messages to childre
n about acceptable ways to treat others and what is fair and just
At times you will need to give children direct guidance to ensure that their behaviour and
interactions reflect principles of anti
bias. The language you use consistently with chi
all areas of the program is also crucial to the development of their values and attitudes. It will
not matter how many non
stereotypical resources, images, posters, stories, books or planned
bias experiences you provide in the service if your
own verbal and non
do not reflect a genuine commitment to an anti
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