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Dr Mani Pavuluri Blog

Let’s be Kind

Scaffolding Conversations: Verbal Comprehension and Expression

# Children # Verbal Comprehension # Verbal Expression # Language Use # Parents Scaffolding # Conversation

Oh well, lot of parents can breeze through conversations. But it is sad to see some children who simply do not have the verbal ability to grasp or express so easily and fold themselves into doing their own solo activities. So many secondary problems pile up with lack of ability to express verbally leading to frustration and then the tantrums- in other words, emotion dysregulation. See, how cognitive issues turn into emotional issues? Here are some pointers to carefully unknot the problem of engaging children in conversations when they are struggling to express, and not resort to medicating for emotion dysregulation!

1. Scaffolding: Opening up the conversations is different from just open ended questions. Very subtle differences in how you construct your sentences makes a huge difference.

A child is looking out the window:
“What are you doing buddy?” – Open ended and hard to latch on
“What are you looking at, Buddy?” – Opening conversation being more specific

This specificity in the latter sentence leads to hooking him into conversations, and is easier to elicit logic from your child, making him think and respond, where verbal language is compromised. Then, you can move on to ask more in depth questions on what they saw outside the window- scaffolding on the core concept.

A benign request such as “Can you tell us?” can be reframed to sound even more casual and less like he has to perform. It can be chatty as “What is going on there, bud?” The nuance here is to be specific and on the equal level with the child in joining his world. It helps them to express themselves more as you pursue, and you ensure the fact that they understand in the first place.

2. Resistance in conversation: If there is still resistance to talking, you can even say, “I wonder if…” or “It looks like you don’t feel like talking right now. It is alright love. May be later..” Always remember that your effort is to help them, not you suffering in the process! Let go! It has to be fail proof and you must move on, doing your own thing. They will come back later to connect in someway if they know you are not investing in you winning, and instead giving them space, placing the onus on them!

3. Instructing: Spending time with the children, sitting on the side showing how to do things such as lego building and helping them learn small tasks like cleaning a car or playing can be helpful while you actively use new words, and help them to use these words in a sentence and so on. When engaged in fun activities (reward!), and distracted from digging in their heels, they are more excited and willing to learn.

4.  Connecting: As a way to connect, I often find that sharing simple things about your own day’s events and experiences in simplified manner may make them feel you respect them enough to share. It encourages the children to do the same.  These neutral non-instructive conversations helps them to acquire practice in verbal comprehension and expression.

I so hope that these tips will help build more conversations. You really are making them (a) think of the situation, (b) improve their understanding of what is heard (verbal comprehension), and helping them learn to express themselves (verbal expression) while building the vocabulary (added lexicons). You are also helping their ability to process information (executive function) through practice. See, two year olds throw tantrums as they are still learning to express in words more fully and are frustrated. Our goal here is to build our children up so they learn to connect through conversations, and feel less frustrated (emotion regulation) with your help of scaffolding their language, and life itself!

I drew a picture of the language circuit in the brain, that we are exercising here!Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 4.46.09 PM Auditory cortex receives the verbal sounds– transmitted to the Wernicke’s area that comprehends– sends signals to Broca’s area, the center for verbal expression– onto motor strip to actually speak with our tongue/mouth and so on. Hope this helps complete your very basic understanding.

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