Friday Favorites: {Guest Post by Jocelyn}

Friday, November 16, 2012

Joc-e-lyn /ˈdʒɒs ə lɪn/ n. 1 a woman, of the latter-day saint variety, having wavy blonde hair and azure eyes; adventurer; seeker of beauty 2 a school-based speech language pathologist, characterized by a love for reenacting stories and an obvious disdain for bureaucratic paperwork 3 a fiercely competitive word game junkie. She blogs over at There I was minding my own business.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings around the corner you may find yourself interacting with some of my favorite storytellers: children. Children tell stories from their hearts about hope and love and learning. Some children explode with words while other children need coaxing.

While you may feel the pressure of impressing a significant other, a mother-in-law, or a boss with your Level 10 Child Skills, please remember that you’re connecting with a young person who has a story to share. Treat him/her with respect and dignity and you will soon have a new friend.

When I stop to take the time to listen to my friends’ children, my heart is touched by their individuality, sincerity and humor. As a speech language pathologist, here are some tips I’ve learned over the years for coaxing stories from youngsters who have communication deficits.

There are some pretty intense people out there, and children are quite aware that they need to steer clear of the high-pitched aunt who has to pinch their adorable cheeks. Spend some time connecting with their parents and occasionally make brief eye contact and smiling before looking away. In order for your future friend to feel comfortable sharing stories with you, he/she needs to: see that his/her parents enjoy your company, realize that you noticed him/her as an individual, and decide that you’re friendly without being intimidating

Get down on the child’s eye level. Connecting with someone eye-to-eye is more natural than craning your neck to talk to someone twice your height. Remember that even Jehovah spoke to Moses face-to-face (Exodus 33:11). Children are still learning language and may need the extra visual cues from seeing the way your mouth moves in order to increase their comprehension. To visualize the importance of body position, check out this blog post.

Children meet a lot of adults throughout their day. Telling them who you are helps them organize their world. Using their name lets them know that you are tuned in to them and care about getting to know them.

Comment on something the child is looking at, something they have, or something you already know about this child. You’ll want to adjust based on age and maturity. Then make a personal connection related to your comment. This helps the child understand your shared interest. Then you get a chance to try your hand as a fortune teller. Make a bet about the child. Children who carry toys with them or wear distinct clothing make this part easier, but you can almost always find something that will hook this story teller. Even if you’re wrong, you give the child a chance to correct your error.

Here are some sample starting conversations:

You’re wearing Bob the Builder.
Wow, those are some sparkly shoes!
Your mom told me that you are taking piano lessons.

I love Bob the Builder.
My shoes are just brown.
I like your pink sparkles.
When I’m stressed, I’m so glad that I can sit down at the piano and make music.

I bet you like building things with Legos™.
I bet your favorite color is pink or maybe silver.
I bet you feel satisfied when you practice a piece of music so you can play it with ease.

Notice the lack of questions in this approach? Your goal is to create a low-pressure situation where the child feels safe to share their story with you. Now you have some tools for collecting stories from your younger peers. Guaranteed you’ll be surprised with what you hear. And please remember that you are having a conversation, not hosting an inquisition.

Lean forward. Smile. Raise your eyebrows. Wait twice as long as you’d normally wait. If they engage, you’re golden! If not, no stress; just smile, rinse and repeat. Resume talking with the parents and try again in a few minutes with a new comment, connection and bet.

Repeat their response, nod, and wait for more. Remember that children communicate with eye gaze and body language. (Cue Ursula: And don't underestimate the importance of body language!) Honor their communicative intent. If they don’t want to share their story with you, perhaps they’ll share with you later or another day.

I hope you have a beautiful December filled with stories and connections. And feel free to share some of your stories in the comments.

For additional ideas on how to engage children who aren't quite verbal yet, I’d suggest perusing Weatherby and Prizant’s communication temptations document. You’ll be amazed what happens with a container of bubbles and an expectant look.


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