Speaking with children is a skill that needs to be understood . It can be easy as parents and teachers to converse in ways that children find off-putting. The way in which adults speak with children should build their confidence.

When talking with each other in staff rooms, school staff speak in a conversational manner. However when returning to classrooms, staff often change their speech idioms. They tend to talk ‘at’ children rather than ‘with’ them. This places adults in a position of dominance and causes young people to feel a degree of discomfort. Changing the quality of vocalisation often occurs as soon as staff and children enter or re-enter the teaching environment.
Speech should be conversational rather than commanding in nature. This helps develop confidence in children, adding to their comfort when talking with their teachers and classroom helpers. This builds rapport and helps develop a positive classroom atmosphere.

Parental Role

It is equally important that parents share conversation with their children. Girls and boys need to feel part of the family circle sharing opinions and ideas that are heard and respected. It is through conversation that parents get to know and understand their own young people. Sharing time also helps children gain confidence in their parents. Strengthening of educational partnerships occurs if this approach carries over to the way in which teachers speak with children at school. Adults working with children need to adopt similar conversational styles.

Adults, both parents and teachers should model correct speech. Children need to grow up learning and copying accurate speech and enunciation. Correct speech and speaking is essential if we are to be clearly understood. It is also important that adults model elements of speech to young people, who observe and copy.

Talking down or talking up to children should be avoided. The practice of ‘baby talk’ toward younger children is unhelpful. It sends wrong messages about speech and speaking. Conversation that is overly sophisticated and incomprehensible to children is also disrespectful. Asking children to seek further explanation when something is not understood is a wise strategy.

Clear conversational speech between adults and children, whether at home or school, develops confidence and builds rapport. It is essential that young people are not made to feel uncomfortable in speech and speaking situations. Listening skills also need to be nurtured and developed. Applying these skills can promote a spirit of partnership between children, their parents and teachers.

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