Communication abilities of young children
Communication patterns and abilities vary greatly from one child to another and depend to a large extent upon experiences before entering school. For example, some children may be used to communicating a lot with parents or older brothers and sisters, while others may have had little social interaction. Some children talk a lot and are very excited when they communicate, whereas others either don't talk much or seem uninterested.
For all children, though, this is a time when their communicative abilities are increasing dramatically. They are learning to differentiate. Where a younger child simply yells, a six or seven year old can often understand and explain the cause of its frustration or pain. A very young child may call all animals 'dog', but an older child differentiates between 'dog' and 'cat' - and eventually learns to tell the difference between different breeds of dog. The child's view of the world becomes more sophisticated.
However, while the child's vocabulary is expanding, it is still fairly unsophisticated. Starting school and learning to read introduces children to many new words, but they often find themselves unable to say exactly what they mean. For instance, a child will have experienced feelings of jealousy and being nervous but may not be able to describe them in words.
Regardless of the different communication abilities or patterns that they have established, children of six and seven years old are aware of the power that communication gives them. For instance, they may have learned that one way to express displeasure is to sulk and not to respond to questions or attempts to engage them in conversation. Sometimes children do this with parents, and may get pleasure and a sense of control from seeing how upset their parents become. On the other hand, children at this age can become frustrated when they are not able to communicate effectively and need to be helped to say what they want to say.
It is important to help children understand that the ability to express yourself directly does not give you licence to say anything you think or feel in any situation. Good communication involves being conscious of other people's feelings. We are not encouraging children to say whatever they want to say, regardless of how hurtful or inappropriate it may be.
When infants first learn to speak, they do little to censor what comes out of their mouths, whether what they say has a specific purpose (such as getting something to eat) or is simply produced for the pleasure of making sounds. By the time children are six or seven, though, they have learned that there are certain things that are said in some social contexts which are not to be expressed in other situations. For example, children tell other children things they would not say to a teacher. They should be encouraged to think about what they want to express in different social contexts. Then, when they do try to say something, they should communicate it clearly and directly.
In the process of coping, one of the central elements is the ability to use available resources in order to obtain help. Children vary greatly in the extent to which they seek support and help on a daily basis. Some children appear to seek help all the time, even when it is not needed. Others rarely ask for help, possibly because they lack practice in communicating requests for help to others. For many children, the fact that the potential helper is an adult and an authority figure can make it more difficult to ask for help.
Learning to read and write opens up a whole new world for children. In early childhood, communication with and by children mainly involves the spoken word, but most six year olds are beginning to rapidly expand their reading skills. The standard of skills is still very uneven, with some children managing a few words and others able to read simple books on their own. Reading allows children to access knowledge on their own, without relying on anyone else, and gives them power. It is another example of how children in this age group are rapidly expanding their communicative abilities.