How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Why Listening Matters

Here's extract number 8 from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk.

This extract introduces Listening, the second of the Five Keys that will unlock your child's language skills.

If you're a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. At the end of each week's post you'll see a link to take you on to the next extract. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.

Listening skills
Scientists know what happens to children when no one talks to them. Sadly, some children grow up without any conversation or play. Studying these children in detail have shown how lack of stimulation destroys their chances of being the smart people they should become.

Listening: parents
Genie was a ‘wild child’, severely neglected by her parents who locked her in her room for 12 years. Her father hated children and terrified her mother into ignoring her completely, apart from giving her some basic food. Rescued at the age of thirteen, Genie learned to talk a little, but she never managed the kind of language skill most children show by 5 years of age.

Your baby learns to talk best if he listens to you talking regularly. The person who cares for him most of the time makes the best teacher for your baby. In most cases, but not all, his mother or father takes on that role. He uses this parent as his model for the future.

He needs to hear you clearly and concentrate on what you say. He may have perfect hearing, but if noise from the TV drowns out your words, he won’t be able to pick out what you say. Turn all external noise off for at least an hour every day.

Children raised in noisy places find it hard to concentrate. They may find it hard to sleep properly, and they find it hard to listen carefully and concentrate on one thing at a time.

Help your child learn to listen.

Listening: infants
Learning to listen is a skill he begins to learn at birth, when he turns his head to your voice. Your quiet voice soothes him, while loud noises startle him and may make him cry. He may like to listen to the washing machine or vacuum cleaner, as their quiet rumbles sound a little like the noises he heard before he was born. He likes to listen to you talking or singing quietly.

Listening: hearing
A newborn baby has good hearing and he quickly learns to turn towards a familiar sound. He starts to recognise your voice and relaxes when he hears you talking to him. New parents find they can soothe their baby by talking or singing quietly.

Hearing problems are a key reason for delayed language development. Many babies undergo hearing checks soon after birth, to pick up any problems as soon as possible. You should mention any worry you have over your child’s hearing to a health professional as soon as possible.

Come back next week for another extract, all about your baby's listening skills: why they matter and how you can help him learn to listen. A link will appear HERE.

Can't Wait To Read the Rest? BUY NOW and download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter in seconds for only £3.53 ($5.73).

SpeechContacts Human Communication Skills Newsletter 3

We’re amazing creatures, we humans. Our opposable thumbs aren’t the only things that set us apart. Almost daily, research seems to uncover more astonishing detail of the way we think and communicate.

Here’s just a small selection of items from the recent news, on brains, music, attention skills and bilingualism.

 Communication News Roundup

Your brain feels someone else's pain
The ABC News website reports research into the embarrassment subjects felt when they watched other people’s pratfalls and other misfortunes. Read more

Brain research moves fast. The views we held on language and communication a few years ago are starting to change.

Mirror neurons in our brains help us recognise what other people are doing and what their intentions may be. Now we can see that empathy is more than a vague desire to be fluffy and kind: it’s an important reality.

For a fascinating, and easily readable, discussion of the neurology behind this, you may enjoy V S Ramachandran’s The Tell-Tale Brain (Click the link on the right of the page to find this Amazon Kindle).

“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” said lead researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, a study published by the American Psychological Association.

The research suggests that studying music, especially at higher levels, benefits your brain throughout your life, even if you drop your musical studies in later life. Read more from WebWire

Attention Skills
Low working memory capacity can be a problem for some, reports The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. You need to be able to focus on more than one thing at a time, and to move your attention wherever it needs to be, to read the world around and avoid incidents such as road accidents.

Read more on the website 

If you have a baby or toddler, check out the chapter on attention skills in SpeechContacts’ own Amazon kindle, How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter

Learning Two Languages
Bilingual people may become more flexible thinkers.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, co-directed by Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff, is actively researching early learning, and has some insights into the ways babies and young children learn language.

The research reinforces recent suggestions, that learning a second language has benefits for children that reach forward into their lives. The research touches on the importance of play for social development and on how a child’s relationship with her parents may predict how soon she is ready for school. Read more

Here's another post about early language development and bilingualism 

If you see a news item on communication, language, speech or wellbeing that you think will interest SpeechContacts followers, why not send me a message through Twitter, leave a comment here on the blog at or write on the facebook page.

How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: 15 Ways to Encourage Attention Skills

Here's extract number 7 from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk.

This extract sums up the information from the Attention Skills section of the book, with a checklist of the very simple things you can do to build attention skills in your baby and toddler. Why not print them out and put them on your fridge door, so it's easy to keep them in mind.

If you're a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. At the end of each week's post you'll see a link to take you on to the next extract. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.

Attention skills: checklist for babies

• Make eye contact.

• Speak gently.

• Notice which sense your baby is using.

• Play peep-bo and sing nursery rhymes.

• Limit the number of toys around him.

• Let him sleep and be quiet.

Attention skills: checklist for toddlers

• Alternate quiet times with activity.

• Limit TV and encourage his own activities.

• Watch for overstimulation and let him relax quietly.

• Call his name and wait for him to look at you.

• Get down to his level so he can see you.

• Keep calm when he gets frustrated.

• Consider signing with him.

• Tell bedtime stories.

• Sing nursery rhymes.

Come back next week for another extract, all about your baby's listening skills: why they matter and how you can help him learn to listen. A link will appear HERE.

Can't Wait To Read the Rest? BUY NOW and download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter in seconds for only £3.53 ($5.73).

How To Give Advice: Communication Skills That Work

Face it: your wise advice may not be helpful to your friends, family and colleagues. Even if they asked your opinion, chances are you won’t say what they want to hear. As for giving the benefit of your experience to your teen or your partner: that seems like an impossible task. How can you avoid the rolled eyes or fixed smile that shows you said the wrong thing?

The following steps may help you avoid some of the multiple pitfalls and booby traps associated with advice.

Always start by listening carefully. Don’t take the question at face value. Think about what you’re being asked, because it’s rarely as simple as it seems.

Every partner knows a seemingly straightforward question, like, “Do you like my new dress?” is laced with subtext, such as, “Am I too fat?” “Do I deserve to spend money on myself?” “Don’t I look a lot better than that tart I saw you ogling at the party yesterday?” The honest answer may be, “I don’t think blue suits you,” but you know that’s not what’s needed.

This kind of question is a plea for approval, and your answer should recognise that. It’s a foolish man who hesitates before telling his partner she looks wonderful. Forget honesty, this is about support.

Other calls for your advice, though, may be around personal problems, such as “What should I do about my son’s school refusal/my husband’s neglect/my mother’s forgetfulness.” These queries stray into a different area. The person asking your advice here is trying to decide how she should act.

Tread very carefully, as you are not the one making the decision. Your friend has to make her own judgement, because she will live with the consequences. Don’t ruin a friendship by saying categorically what you think she should do, have her follow your advice and find it doesn’t work. You can help best by enabling her to think through her options.

Ask a few questions of your own, designed to make the issue clearer. Use the “wh” questions, “Who, what, when, where, why and how?” to explore the problem. These questions help her think more widely and deeply about the problem. Focus on the words she says. A useful technique is to pick out a word, repeat it in a questioning voice and ask an open “wh” question about it.

For example, you might say, “Refusal? What happens exactly?” Use her response to move farther up the conversational ladder until the problem becomes very clear. She may say, “He says he hates his teacher.” You can then use another “wh” question, “Why do you think that may be?” to help her think further.

Problem solving
Your aim is to help her find her own solution, not to impose one of your own. These questions may help her to clarify what she thinks about the situation, and she could well see and clarify her decision as she talks it through.

You can then help by asking what she thinks will happen if she follows her own advice. Use the same open question ‘laddering’ technique to take her through possible consequences. This may help her feel more confident about her proposed actions. It may on the other hand, lead to her changing her mind.

By using these steps, you avoid imposing your own solutions on your friend, help her to make her own mind up and support her decision.

More posts to help you build your own communication kit:

How to Banish Guilt Through Positive Thinking

Solve Your Problem: Communication Skills That Work

SpeechContacts Human Communication Skills Newsletter

Here's a taste of the communication news I’ve found interesting recently.

Communication News Roundup

Making music with eye-pointing after devastating stroke

TV presenters, jargon dysphasia and conspiracy theories

Listen, don't talk. Good advice

A plea for face to face communication in an online world

Stories of hope for locked in syndrome sufferers

Who else wants to publish a Kindle eBook? (this one's a guest post I wrote recently).

This week, Action for Happiness launched in the UK with a Facebook page.

I'm pleased to say that SpeechContacts was ahead of the game, with our iHappiness app for iPhone and iPad already available.

Once you’ve uploaded this FREE app to your device, click the icon every day and read a new suggestion to help you build your resilience, flourish and grow happier and more contented.

Click the bird on the web page HERE to find your app.

SpeechContacts is on Facebook

Maybe you’d like to visit our new SpeechContacts Facebook page and leave a comment.

How I Stopped Mind Reading and Started Enjoying My Life

The other day, I read a post from J. She felt unhappy that people look down on her because she’s a mum at 17.  Here's a true story that I hope may have some meaning for you, J, and for anyone else who feels belittled.

When I was a young mum I struggled. I had three kids under four, and often they were rowdy and noisy and I couldn’t control them. Most of our daily activities seemed difficult, but shopping was a nightmare.

One day we all went into town. It took hours. Eventually, exhausted, we stopped off to have coffee. The kids spilt their drinks. They squabbled, fidgeted and laughed loudly.

I'd chosen a bad place to stop, as the room was full of middle-aged ladies. There were a few quiet well-behaved children and well-dressed Mums, but my tribe stuck out like a handful of sore thumbs. I wanted to get us out of there as soon as I could, but once those kids had started their drinks, I was stuck.

I felt myself growing hot and cross. My neck was sweaty and I just wanted to go home.

To make it worse, an older woman, sitting at a table nearby, stared and stared. She was smart, with big hair, a cashmere sweater and absolutely no baby sick or spilt milk on any of her clothes.

Every time one of my kids dropped a spoon, shouted or kicked the table, I glanced up and saw her looking at me. She radiated disapproval. I wanted the floor to eat me up.

Finally, she rose and approached, her heels clicking on the floor.

“Excuse me,” she said, icily. She smelled of Chanel No 5. I braced myself, feeling my cheeks reddening.

“I wanted to congratulate you on your lovely family,” she said, smiled, and left.

J, think again about those people who stare at you or seem to disapprove of you. Are you sure you know what they’re thinking? Or could you be mistaken, as I was?

From that day on, when I noticed someone watching me with my unruly kids, I decided they were thinking good things about us. Maybe they were, and sometimes maybe they weren’t.

But because I changed my own thoughts, it really didn’t matter.

“Those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter.” (Often attributed to Dr Seuss but actually said by Bernard Baruch.)

J, and all other mums, young or old - take pride in your babies and in yourselves. 

More posts on how to feel more positive:

How to Banish Guilt Through Positive Thinking

See Things From His Point of View

Help Your Child Talk: Six Attention Tips for Babies and Two for Toddlers

Here's the fifth extract from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk.

This week's extract starts with a reminder of the tips you've learned for helping your baby use his five senses and take notice of things around him. Then I've added two tips on how to help a toddler transfer his attention from his toy to you - really useful when you need to say something important.

If you're a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. At the end of each week's post you'll see a link to take you on to the next extract. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.

Attention skills: six tips for babies

• Make eye contact so he turns his attention on to you.

• Speak gently: loud noises disrupt his concentration.

• Notice which senses your baby uses and encourage all five: listening, looking, tasting, smelling and touching.

• Play peep-bo and sing nursery rhymes, to have fun and help him concentrate a few seconds longer.

• Limit the number of toys around him so he's not confused by too much choice.

• Let him sleep often and be quiet. His brain is busy building connections, and needs sleep.

Attention skills: toddlers
During his second year, things change for your child. He starts to be able to move his attention deliberately from what he is doing, in order to look at you when you speak to him. He turns to look when you call his name, then goes back to his toy. Sometimes he chooses not to give you his attention, if the toy is more interesting.

Attention skills: attract his attention
He sometimes needs your help to move his attention to you. Although he is starting to understand words, he won't hear or understand you if his attention is elsewhere.

Maybe you find he ignores you when you speak to him, because he's playing with his favourite toy. Sometimes, you've said his name three or four times before he turns to you.

Here are two tips on how to attract his attention when you need to. Both are better than shouting his name and feeling frustrated. 

• Try moving the toy he's focused on, quite  slowly, until it’s in front of your face. His eyes follow the toy. When he sees your face smiling at him from behind it, he’s more likely to look at you, forget the toy and concentrate on what you say. Say 'get your coat' while he's looking at you and you'll be surprised at how readily he understands.

• Sometimes, though, just wait a moment or two, until he’s finished what he’s doing. It doesn’t take long, and there'll be a window of opportunity as his attention moves away from the toy. That's when he’s ready to pay attention to a new activity. Watch him and choose your moment.

Come back next week for the next extract to find out more about your child's attention skills as he becomes a toddler. A link will appear HERE

Can't Wait To Read the Rest? BUY NOW and download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter in seconds for only £3.53.

SpeechContacts Child and Baby Communication Newsletter: Help Your Child Talk

Hello, friend of SpeechContacts. Welcome to the Child and Baby Communication newsletter.

SpeechContacts is on FaceBook
We have a new SpeechContacts Facebook page. Maybe you’d like to visit and see what’s there.

Children and Baby Communication Development News Round Up
As regular followers of @speechcontacts tweets on Twitter will know, I love to scout around and find interesting snippets of news to enhance my communication in-tray.

Here’s a collection of some of the most interesting bits and pieces I’ve come across over the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
SpeechContacts very own Kindle eBook
By far the biggest and best SpeechContacts news is, of course, our new publication How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter, now available on Amazon for the Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Mac or PC. Visit to find out more details.

I want to say a word or two about the front cover, which is a miracle of teamwork. My husband created it using a photo of my son and his son, my grandson, taken by my daughter using my daughter-in-law’s camera. Beat that for a family affair! Thanks to all of you for your help.

Smart Talkers Pre-School Communication Groups
There’s one more thank you from me, which goes to Libby Sisson for her help and encouragement to this poor old technophobe, in setting up the SpeechContacts Facebook page - and more.

Libby is a speech therapist and director of Small Talk SLT Ltd. She offers some great franchise opportunities for anyone interested in setting up their own Smart Talkers pre-school communication group – no need to be a speech therapist to get started.

Sign up for more newsletters HERE.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills: Ten Best Tips for Better Understanding

Talking to foreigners can seem tricky. You don’t speak the same language. Tradition has it that English speakers try to make themselves understood by shouting, while people from continental Europe use their hands to get their point across.

It’s not just the foreign words that confuse. The truth is, we’re not always too good at using our own language. There’s a great deal more to understanding each other than just a common vocabulary.

I remember when I was a child, listening to my mother and her friends talking. They seemed to me to be talking so fast, using such long words and interrupting each other so often. How could they keep track of their conversation?

Have you ever found it hard to understand a colleague? Or asked your child to do something, only to have them seem to ignore you? Or, maybe you get into arguments with your partner, when she just doesn’t seem to listen.

Ten golden communication rules.
Try these tips when you talk to your children, family, friends and colleagues. Use them all the time and notice your relationships improve.

• Speak more slowly. Your listener’s brain has to remember your sentences, then decode the words and grammar before he can understand your message. It takes time. Talk too fast and you’ll be misunderstood.

• Pause between phrases and sentences. Give your listener a chance to catch up and to react.

• Use short sentences. There’s a theory that you can only hold seven things in your memory at one time. If you pack your sentences full, your listener will miss something. Say important things as simply as possible.

• Match your body language to your meaning. How often do you say, “I’m listening” to your child, while your eyes slide away to your computer screen or TV? Do you ever say “yes,” while your expression says “no”? Avoid giving mixed messages.

• Make eye contact with your listener. She finds it easier to listen to you and you make a connection: after all, the eyes aren’t called “the windows to the soul” for nothing.

• Check your tone of voice. Sound impatient and that’s all your listener hears. He won’t notices your words: we all know now that most messages come from our non-verbal language.

• Listen to the other person. It’s so easy to plan your next sentences, forgetting to listen to the answer. Watch TV interviewers and see how often they ask a question that’s already been answered, because they forgot to listen.

• Watch for the other person’s body language. Notice crossed arms or leaning away from you, showing that he’s feeling defensive. Watch when his body language mirrors yours, showing he feels empathy with you.

• Give a context to what you say. Don’t launch straight in to a set of instructions or questions, but set the scene first. Your listener needs time to adjust to the new topic. Phrases such as “can we talk about arrangements for the weekend,” help her start thinking and make it easier for her to understand.

• Take turns. Let the other person finish what they have to say and avoid interrupting. This matters even more in a tricky situation, when an interruption signals that you are not prepared to consider another’s point of view.

Here are some more SpeechContacts posts on communication skills.

How to Make a Good Impression

How to Learn to Speak the Same Language

The Secret of Using All Your Five Senses

How to See Things From His Point of View

How to Avoid the Unscrupulous Salesman’s Language Traps

How to Banish Guilt Through Positive Thinking

How to Get Agreement with Communication Skills

Baby Attention and Concentration: How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter Part Four

Hello and welcome to this week's fourth extract from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter. Every week, I'm posting up some paragraphs from my new book for you to read.  This will help you find the information you need on your child's language development during the first few years of his life. It's your chance to find out more about the way your child is learning to talk.

You need to help your child, because it's the first three years that matter most. 

If you're a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. At the end of each week's post you'll see a link to take you on to the next extract. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.

Before this week's extract, here are just a few words about an important development in England.

By the way
You may have heard that a review of the Early Learning Foundation Stage (EYFS) was published recently. The EYFS describes all the things that childcare professionals must think about. Dame Claire Tickell, the report's author, spent many months looking at evidence about young children, and listening to the things parents and professionals had to say.

She says communication and language development really matter during the first three years of your child's life.

She advises early years professionals to concentrate their efforts on communication, along with helping social and emotional development and checking on physical development.

Learning to read, write and do maths can wait. Now's the time to lay the foundations for your child's future success.

Here are a few scary statistics:
  • 50% of children start school in England, unable to understand properly: how will they learn in the classroom? 
  • 70% of young offenders have speech and/or language problems: what does that tell us about the importance of language in our children's lives? 
  • 20% of people think they don't need to talk to their baby until he's three months old: aren't they missing out on some wonderful experiences, and failing to introduce their baby to the possibilities of communication?
The good news is that it's really easy to help your child talk. You just need to pay attention to the Five Keys:
  • attention,
  • listening,
  • understanding,
  • play, and
  • speech.
In previous extracts from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter, I've talked about the way your baby's attention is caught by things he sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches, how he concentrates on one thing at a time and how you can use simple games to increase his attention and concentration. 

Now read this week's post to find out even more about your baby's attention skills: the first of those Five Keys your child needs to open his treasure chest of language.   

Attention skills: over-stimulation
While your baby is tiny, too many new sights, sounds and people can over-stimulate him. Be prepared to take him to a quiet place and soothe him if he becomes fractious. Everything is new to a baby, and he needs plenty of peaceful sleep. In fact, during his first 2 months he’s likely to sleep for about 20 hours a day. While he sleeps, his brain busily builds connections and helps him to make sense of the world. 

As he grows, he spends longer periods awake and alert. Make sure your voice is the one he hears most. Dr William Sears pioneered the concept of attachment between you and your baby. A close relationship with your baby, including time spent feeding him, holding him and responding to his cries, helps him learn best from you, because you can adjust your voice and your words to his needs. 

As you talk to him, watch him and make eye contact, you learn to read his expressions. Notice when he concentrates on you, and when something distracts his attention. 

Spend time with him and let the housework wait. 

Attention skills: baby activities: vision
Even during his first 3 months, he learns to follow an object with his eyes. Move one toy at a time from side to side. Use a rattle to help him concentrate a little longer, as his hearing and vision focus together. Show him pictures of faces and watch him look hard at them for a few seconds. Even tiny babies prefer pictures of faces to other visual stimulation. 
Attention skills: baby activities: five senses
Remember he has five senses, so appeal to all of them: smell, touch and taste as well as vision and hearing. Early in his first year, he starts to pass objects from one hand to the other. Let him have soft balls or crinkly paper, so encourage him to feel and hear the difference.

As he begins to eat solid food, his delicate senses of smell and taste mean he shows real enjoyment of some foods as well as distaste for others. Let him try a variety of foods, helping him notice and focus on the new sensations.

Offer him plenty of opportunities to use each of his senses, both separately and together. Draw his attention to what he can feel or see, taste or touch or hear. Avoid overloading him with too much sensory stimulation, as this will overwhelm him, and give him plenty of time to explore the world for himself.

Come back next week for the next extract to find out more about your child's attention skills as he becomes a toddler. A link will appear HERE.

Can't Wait? BUY NOW to download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter in seconds for only £3.53.

I write this Communication Blog

My photo

Frances Evesham: on the run around Europe for years, with only a husband, three children and a succession of opinionated cats to keep me out of trouble. Somerset stopped me in my tracks. Now I walk in the country and breathe sea air. I will get around to cleaning the house soon.

I've been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper. I sometimes work in the criminal courts to uphold fair questioning of people with special needs.

I smell the roses, lavender and rosemary as I cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. Writing historical romances and books on communication leaves enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns and wish I’d kept on with the piano lessons.