Transcript: Tips To Engage With Your Child Using Non-Verbal Communication

This is a text transcript from The First Time Mum’s Chat podcast. The episode is called Tips To Engage With Your Child Using Non-Verbal Communication and you can click on the link to view the full episode page, listen to the episode and view the show notes.

Helen Thompson: So, what do you do when your little one isn’t speaking or trying to communicate with you verbally. In our modern hustle and bustle and highly competitive world, it’s easy for parents to worry if their baby’s verbal development seems slow or delayed. As a childcare educator and baby massage instructor it’s second nature to me to look for and interpret those non-verbal cues. I highly recommend that all parents learn to read their little ones, non-verbal communication and to help you, in this week’s episode, you’ll hear me speaking with Louise Day, who is a speech and language therapist. Louise works with children under five, often who are non-speaking, so she has lots of tips and insights to offer.

Hi Louise and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’m excited to be talking with you since we’ve both got so much to offer moms when it comes to the topic of non-verbal communication. I’ll start by asking you to tell us about your background and what you do.

Louise Day: Thank you, my name’s Louise day, I’m a children’s speech and language therapist and I live in Edinburgh, in Scotland, in the UK and I specialize in children who are autistic, but also have a big interest in babies and toddler communication and I’m a mom of two, so I’ve got a nearly five year old and a two year old, so it’s been interesting to have that experience of watching my own children develop as well, with communication in mind. So, yeah thanks for having me, I’m excited too. I think we’ve got a lot in common in terms of our interests and our work.

Helen Thompson: Yeah and also where I used to live, because I was brought up in Scotland.

So you mentioned that you work with autistic kids. So how does that work with speech therapy? Cause I know from baby massage, I know that some autistic kids don’t like to be touched. Some of them don’t have eye contact with you and you know that they’re autistic for that reason. As a speech therapist, what are your tips on autism and how you can sort of detect it?

Louise Day: Yeah, I’ve worked with autistic kids for about 10 or 12 years in a sort of caring capacity and then 8 years as a speech therapist and every child is so unique and different. So, some children are really happy to give eye contact and they like to communicate that way and some children find that really uncomfortable. And I think, over the years, I’ve learnt a lot about autism and kind of not pathologizing it and making it like something that’s wrong or a problem.

You know, we’re all different in our styles and that’s completely okay and it needs to be accepted and respected and in terms of the way speech and language therapy can support, particularly with the children I work with, who don’t necessarily use speech and words and spoken language to communicate, it’s about how can we support them with ways like maybe sign language or new technology.

The most famous kind of example of technology would be Steven Hawking who used a sort of voice outfit aid. Or using pictures or visuals, some sort of symbols or photographs. How can we use other means to get that child to express themselves.

And how can we teach parents the importance of reading their child’s nonverbal communication, their behavior, to then pick up, well, this is what they’re communicating. They don’t like that or they want more of something, so it’s kind of looking at all the subtleties of communication. And I know that you know about nonverbal communication and that’s a really important thing in baby that you’re reading baby’s cues and so I think that’s where it’s really fascinating that our work crosses over.

Helen Thompson: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting what you said about autism that we all label kids as they’re autistic, or they’ve got difficulties, but as you quite rightly say, every child is an individual and I think it’s so valuable to respect children for who they are and how they communicate. It’s their individuality. Every child communicates in a different way, whether they’ve got autism, or whether they’ve got learning difficulties, they know how to communicate in their own way and it’s our job as parents to help our children to communicate and learn the value of communication. And I think that’s learning their cues cause as a baby massage instructor, that’s what I do. I teach parents how to ask their baby’s permission and frequently they say to me, but my baby doesn’t know, my baby can’t talk, but babies can talk through so many ways but they can also communicate through, as you said, nonverbal communication and just watching their cues and watching their eyes and watching whether they’re looking at you and if they’re engaged with you and if they’re engaged with you, that’s wonderful.

You can show them the pictures, as you said with autism, or you can show them what to do and you can tell them that is what I’m going to do and I think that’s so valuable.

Louise Day: Definitely, absolutely, I relate to it myself as a parent, because even with the professional expertise, I had it still hard when you birth this baby and, you know, it’s like they’re crying and I don’t know why they’re crying and you’re learning how to interpret their communication and they’re learning how to respond to you and they’re learning that, when I cry, I get a nice hug and so it’s all that learning and I think as a parent, it can be really quite frustrating and difficult.

But you know, tools like massage, touch, playing with different toys, sensory items, bubbles, song, movement, it can be really simple. But they can be really helpful to help you engage with your child and get that attention. Cuz that’s the first thing, isn’t it? The baby paying attention to you and people around you. And then they might start to copy noises and facial expressions and it’s just absolutely fascinating, that babies are often just born to respond to people, to faces, they recognize words and language, they recognize their own native language, cuz they’ve heard that in the womb and it’s really, really fascinating.

Helen Thompson: It is, I think it’s really fascinating. You mentioned about the communication and the touch and how that affects communication. So I guess you also do sign language and sign language is a great way to communicate with babies as well, because they understand our facial expressions. They understand our facial expressions and they learn from us copying each other. They learn, you know, if I’m smiling at you, they’ll learn, oh, if I smile, I get a nice happy response and so they learn, that’s all nonverbal communication.

Louise Day: Totally, it is, yeah, definitely and I think being face to face with your child, if you’re doing massage, or if you’re playing with them or reading them a story, or, feeding them. All that face to face contact, that’s what’s so valuable. Parents don’t have to do lots of things, like teach their children things or do big, bright, shiny activities. Literally having face to face, smiling with your baby, laughing with them and just kinda waiting, pausing and just observing your child and are they kicking their legs? Well, maybe they’re enjoying that or are they pulling away or scrunching up their body. Maybe they’re feeling a bit uncomfortable and it’s like a dance, isn’t it? And we get it wrong and we make mistakes and we stumble over things and babies crying and we interpret it wrong and they don’t want to feed and then they start crying more and that’s okay.

I always say to parents that, you know, you’re perfectly imperfect, we’re all learning and we’re getting to know each other and build that relationship, you and your baby. So it is like a dance, but, we make mistakes and it’s a big learning process for you and the baby.

Helen Thompson: As a speech you mentioned toys earlier. So how do you incorporate toys into your work?

Louise Day: Yeah, I tend to use quite simple toys. So, something that’s really popular is bubbles. It’s very sensitive and you can use bubbles with your child, from a really young age, your baby cause they can follow them around the room. So I often use toys that are really highly motivating, like bubbles balloons, something that has like a cause and effect. So when I blow all the bubbles, go all around the room and the child’s watching them and popping them, it’s interactive. When I blow up the balloon, the child can hold it and maybe I don’t tie it and it just deflates again.

Yeah, it’s noisy, it’s really fun and some children don’t like noisy things, so it’s kind of finding what children like. Even things like bits of material or fabric, just using really simple things with your baby or your child. A lot of children that I work with like things like spoons or keys or watches or banging on saucepans with a wooden spoon.

So just using really simple things that make a noise and that are kind of, a cause and effect. So when I do this, this happens and for me, it can be useful for me to be the one that’s doing the blowing of the bubbles or the blowing up the balloon, because then the child’s got to kind of come to me and ask can I have that again?

And they might do that by just touching the bubbles, or they might do that by making a sound, or they might do it by looking at the object. So, it’s kind of getting something that’s really highly motivating that can be repeated and that the adult can have a bit of a role in, so that the child has to ask the adult for some more.

Helen Thompson: And that brings me to two points. I come from childcare background and I know how valuable sensory toys and everything is .Sensory things are so valuable for kids to learn from because you learn so much by touch and by touch I’m meaning touch as in just feeling and feeling if something is soft and hard and as you say, you’re getting the cause and effect. It’s all part of learning, it’s all part of communication and I think doing that kind of thing is so valuable.

Louise Day: Yeah, definitely a lot of the children I work with love water and sand and you can learn so much, like you can talk about splashing, you can talk about hot, cold, you can talk about body parts, let’s splash it on your feet, let’s splash it on your hands and yeah they may be feeling calm because they like water and it’s got that calming effect on them. So it’s bringing everything in.

How they’re feeling, their emotions but also language and just having fun with children. I think, that’s what it’s about. It’s about the relationship and having a laugh, splashing each other, you know, just being silly and I think children really like that and sharing that connection and there’s obviously a lot of opportunities for communication and that if they’re laughing and they’re really engaged and in the moment.

Helen Thompson: And it’s also an opportunity for you as a speech therapist to find out what they can say and what they can’t say and to encourage them to speak more and to use their words. So many parents say to me that they say use your words, like, I can’t understand you when you babble, you need to use your words, but if they don’t know what word it is they want to use because they may have a speech problem. But if you can say to them, like you said, splashing, splashing the water on the hands. You can say, well, I’m splashing the water on your hands. Do you know where your hand is? And you can start talking to them like that in order to get them to communicate with you and in turn. From a childcare background, I know that helps develop their language, but from a speech therapist, does that actually help the language as well? Does it help them to articulate the words that they want to say?

Louise Day: I think I find the use your words thing challenging because a lot of children just can’t use words and I can totally understand where parents are coming from, they’re trying to help their child and they’re trying to tell them what they need to do, but most children if they can use words, they will, it’s as simple as that and lots of children are just really struggling and trying to, so yeah, through using, like, through play and say and a water tray, you’re enticing that child and you’re encouraging them to express themself and that might be even just laughing and you’re laughing back with them and they might laugh again, or they might make a noise like, ah, you know, and that’s a kind of enjoyment noise for them and a fun noise and you can make it back. So it’s having a conversation with a child wherever they’re at. You know, you are copying what they’re doing.

It’s really useful to encourage children to copy you, but actually as a speech therapist, I encourage parents and practitioners to copy the children and to mimic their communication because that’s their way of communicating. And when somebody else responds in a way that’s familiar to them, then that really can excite a child and make a child feel seen and heard.

So yeah, it can, play can definitely encourage speech and spoken words, but it just depends if that’s what a child is gonna have as their main means of communication and some children don’t use words, but absolutely plays great for that and there’s just so much in there. It’s just all about simplicity I think really.

Helen Thompson: Yeah, play is so fun and I think people undervalue play with kids these days because they think their babies should be learning to read a book and starting to read and I’m not devaluing showing a baby a book. I think that is so important at a young age to show baby’s pictures and to read them a story but they don’t necessarily have to be able to read until they’re five or six or even seven or eight and I think a lot of parents these days are pushing their kids too much. They’re pushing their kids to read when they’re not ready and that’s where the frustration comes in because they’re being pushed to learn when they’re not actually ready to learn and there’s nothing wrong with them, they just wanna take that extra bit of time to learn and I don’t know if you agree with me, but I think a lot of the times we push our children too much.

Louise Day: Yeah, I think from what I’ve found, there’s a huge, especially in the UK and lots of Western culture, we put a lot of emphasis on academic achievement and a child knowing their letters and numbers, knowing how to write their name, being able to sit still but actually a child’s often not developmentally ready to do those things. You know, children should be playing all through their childhood, but at least for seven years of their life and in many countries in Europe, children don’t go to school till six or seven and that’s I think better for them, they’re given more time to be themselves, to develop, to play, to express themselves, to relate to other people. All those things are more important before the child actually sits down with a pencil and writes. So, yeah, I agree definitely.

Helen Thompson: A child can learn how to draw before they even hold a pencil. They can do it in the sand, they can do it in playdough and all those kind of things. Or even with squelchy stuff, slime, they can learn through that or finger painting. It’s still learning that pincer grasp, they’re still learning how to hold a pencil, but they’re just getting their hand eye, it’s not the hand eye coordination. It’s their…

Louise Day: Fine motor.

Helen Thompson: Yes. Thank you, that’s what I was trying to say. They’re getting their fine motor skills working at a very young age and as you say that to me is so important because if they can learn that at a young age, whilst they’re playing, then their speech will probably just come more naturally.

Louise Day: Yeah, definitely, I think parents completely mean well and all the parents I meet really care about their children, really want to help them but I think really taking the pressure off and particularly the past couple of years, we’ve lived in really stressful times, children haven’t been in contact with many children, so life has been really odd and different, so just kind of really taking that pressure off and letting the children play and just explore and be themselves and just, really going with that. Because if you go with your child’s interest and you just follow them and you follow your child’s lead as strange as it sounds, they know what they need to learn and they know what they need to do and if tuning into that, as difficult as it can be and it takes practice and some patience, then you’ll really reap the benefits of that.

Helen Thompson: I think we all should do more of that because I think children, as you say know what they want, they know where they want to go and it’s not as hard as you think. I think if you start when your baby’s young and do it when the baby’s young and start it sort of when they’re growing up to be a toddler, then they know what to expect and they know that they’re gonna learn through play and have fun.

Louise Day: Definitely, completely agree.

Helen Thompson: Yeah. So is there anything else that you feel that would be very valuable to parents that we haven’t already discussed? Is there anything that you would like to share to the first time mums?

Louise Day: Yeah definitely with anything sign language or using pictures and things with your babies or objects, showing them you know, a plate to symbolize it’s time for lunch or showing them different objects and talking about what they are, like a ball or bubbles. I think starting these things really early with your child’s really useful. Even if you don’t feel they’re responding straight away because we know that the earlier you introduce something to a child, the more familiar it’ll become and the easier they then find it to kind of learn things in the future.

So yeah, give signing a go. Have a look on, I’ve got some signs on my social media or on YouTube and start using some signs and some gestures with your baby. I think for children who are learning language, those first couple of years, they’re just bombarded with all this language and they’re trying to soak it all up and learn it and their brains just, you know, all the networks are just growing all the time and the connections and I think you know, anything you can do to help your child, in terms of giving them an additional sign, you know, to actually help them understand that word. You’re kind of giving them an extra cue so that they can understand the world better and what’s going on is really, really helpful for that child, just to boost their understanding and build their language and help them learn words.

So yeah, check out my social media. I’ve got lots of videos and tips and things at Louise day SLT on Instagram. I hope that’s okay to say Helen.

Helen Thompson: I was about to ask you that anyway.

Louise Day: And Louise Day speech and language therapy on Facebook and I love to kind of receive questions, so if anybody’s got any questions I’m more than happy to discuss.

Helen Thompson: Thank you, I’ve enjoyed talking to you as I knew I would. I could sit here and talk all day about speech and language and communication, because as we’ve mentioned a few times, it is really, really important to communicate with your baby at a very small age and it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as your doing it and reading stories to them when they’re young and just showing them pictures is a great way to do it. So thank you for sharing all your tips and all your details on social media.

And one final thing, if you had a mom who came to you and said help, I don’t know how to communicate with my baby, I’m not sure if they’re okay, what would you say?

Louise Day: Well, that’s a hard one.

Helen Thompson: Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to make it hard.

Louise Day: There’s so many things you could say. I would start by saying to the mom to just pause and to just take a breath and focus on just spending quality time with that baby, because we don’t need to know, there are all these books out there, all that information, we’ve got a lot of information now, and it’s almost a bit overwhelming, so actually just stop and take a breath, take the pressure off yourself and just have a nice chat and laugh and smile with your baby and it’ll grow from there I promise.

Helen Thompson: Thank you Louise so much for being on the podcast. I really enjoyed talking to you.

Louise Day: Me too.

Helen Thompson: I hope you found what Louise and I shared helpful, and that you’ve picked up some ideas on how to improve your non-verbal communication with your little one. It’s a great opportunity for you to enjoy your time together and get to know each other on another level, isn’t it! I highly recommend checking out Louise’s tips and videos that she posts on Instagram and Facebook, and I’ve included links to where you can access them in the show notes, which can be accessed at