Childhood milestones: Communication at five years
At the age of four, the length of your child’s sentences will be, on average, about four words long. When your child turns five, this will increase from four words to five to seven words.
They will have a vocabulary of about 1,500 – 2,500 words when they are five years old. They will be able to use the words “would” and “could” at the right time, and they will also be able to use these words in the correct context.
They will understand the concept of getting rewarded for their behavior. Their ability to express themselves through words will have increased notably and they will also be able to express themselves through nonverbal means, for example through play and art.
At the age of five, they will be able to remember their favorite nursery rhymes and they are learning how to be attentive listeners.
Tips for communicating with five-year olds
1. Encourage autonomy and goal-directed behavior
As your child is able to understand the concept of being rewarded for their behavior, encourage them to actively participate in decision making. This means help your child make choices.
Plus, help them to follow through with the delivery of those choices. Doing this will help them develop autonomous and goal-directed behavior. This can be achieved through providing them with opportunities to lead on certain parts of tasks that they find enjoyable.
For example, if they like cooking then invite them to lead on making a certain part of an easy recipe. When it comes to making pizzas, for example, have them select which ingredients to use. Then they can also arrange the toppings on the top of the pizza before it goes into the oven. Then they can eat the pizza, which in turn becomes a reward for their goal-directed behavior.
When it comes to making muffins, for example, it may be that they take responsibility for placing the muffin cases on the baking tray or stirring the ingredients into the mix. Alternatively, they may take responsibility for sprinkling the decorations on top of the muffins before they are placed into the oven.
Remember to praise them for all of their efforts as this will help reinforce their achievements and promote future autonomous behavior.
2. Finding the right words
At the age of five, your child will also be rapidly developing the ability of expressing themselves. At this stage of their life, they understand more (receptive skills) than they can express. To help develop their vocabulary, encourage your child to express themselves when any opportunity arises. For example, help them find the words to express what emotion they might be feeling when they’re upset, when they’re happy or help them to find the word that describes what they’re doing.
Introduce new words to them. Help them understand what these new words mean and facilitate their use within everyday contexts. This will help them find the right words. Quiz them on the new words they have learned. Play games with them that involves their new words as this will help consolidate these new additions to their growing vocabulary.
3. Enable non-verbal means of expression
At the age of five they will also start to rapidly develop nonverbal means of self-expression. For example, they will be actively exploring their ability to express themselves through art, music and play so it’s helpful to provide opportunities to help them with this. Introduce new games that require them to express themselves in this way. For example, play with them through song. Encourage them to make up new words to songs. Encourage them to draw and encourage them to paint. Display their artworks and praise them for their efforts. Audio-record their songs and share their songs with others.
4. Problem-solving behavior
At the age of five, it’s also useful to provide your child with opportunities for problem solving and to actively encourage them to develop the art of problem solving. This can be done in several ways. For example, you may wish to help them talk through or “talk out aloud” the different stages involved in a relatively simple task. Doing this can help them talk through any difficulties and it can help them find solutions to any bits of the task that they find difficult to do.
This can be done by introducing simple instructions when your child is engaged in a task, such as “explain what you’re doing to me”. Simple questions are also helpful, such as “can you tell me how that works”? Asking questions like these will help your child understand the different components involved in a task and it will help them to be able to describe these components. In the short term, using strategies like these will help facilitate problem-solving skills, which will help prepare them for school.
Plus, in the long term, developing problem-solving abilities, autonomous and goal-directed behavior, a willingness to express themselves and the language to be able to communicate effectively will help them throughout the rest of their childhood and also throughout their life as an adult.
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.