Childhood milestones: Communication at four years
At the age of four, your child will be able to use sentences that are about four words in length. They will enjoy role playing and playing games that make believe. They will most likely have difficulty taking turns when participating in group activities. But they are able to refer to objects, events and people that are not around them. For example, they can refer to an aunty or a friend that isn’t in around them.
Tips for communicating with four-year olds
1. Match their sentence length
Match the sentence length that your child uses. This helps keeps your language at a level of complexity that’s just right for them. It avoids the situation where you use language that is too complicated.
Also, using the right length can help match their attention span, and this can help optimize conditions to aid their development. For example, if your child says: “I want to go”, you might reply: “OK, let’s go now”, rather than “OK, let’s get ready so that we can all leave”.
2. Use the adjectives they use
Integrate the words that your child uses to describe objects into your own language. Doing this will make sure that your child understands the words that you are using. Even though it’s helpful to introduce new words to your child, it’s also important to take the time to reinforce the words they are learning. Repeating back words they are already trying to incorporate into their vocabulary will help them with this.
When your child is unable to achieve their goals or express themselves they may become quite frustrated. In these scenarios, validate their emotions and help them find the words to describe their feelings. This will help them find new words to express the emotions that they are starting to feel. At the same time, it’s useful to help your child complete their task as if they only focus on emotional expression they will miss out on important developmental opportunities.
If your child is very frustrated then you may need to modify the task substantially in order for them to achieve their goal. This may also help them to calm down. Helping them regulate their emotional behavior is an important developmental milestone. Learning how to do this will help them in the longer term. It will help them to successfully engage and sustain in task-orientated behavior, and it will help them express themselves through words.
4. Practice turn-taking behavior
Our fourth tip is to practice taking turns with them. Provide them with lots of opportunities to practice this behavior. Model the behavior that’s required for this in groups. Show them what skills are required for waiting in a group. For example, show them how to speak up. Help them wait for their turn by playing games that reinforce turn-taking behaviors, and equip them with the words to help them let others know that they are ready for their turn. Using musical games can help with this.
Turn-taking skills are important for participating in conversations. Achieving competence in this area will open up new learning opportunities for them when they play with others. Developing turn-taking behavior will also help them when they start school.
Kertoy MK. Poulsen AA. Using Language to Motivate. (2013) In J Ziviani. AA Poulsen, M Cuskelly. (eds). The Art and Science of Motivation. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 159-191.