Dr. James MacDonald 332 Mimring Columbus, Ohio 43202 Phone/Fax 614 447-0768 macdonaldj86@gmail.com

Communicating Partners

Dr. James D. MacDonald's Website

Helping Parents Help Children. Programs for Parents, Therapists & Educators


What does your child need to become a conversationalist?

Based on years of developing conversations with children, we have found certain skills that help children become effective and enjoyable conversation partners. Many children with delays have language but do not effectively use it in conversations. Conversation, not language alone, is the key to successful relationships, learning and success in society. The skills below allow a child to build a conversational life.

Four general attitudes seem essential to become a conversationalist:

  1. interest in sharing his knowledge
  2. interest in what others have to say
  3. Understanding that conversations have many purposes
  4. Confidence and enjoyment in interactions.

With these four attitudes, your child will become a successful conversationalist to the degree they develop the following skills.


  1. Seeks out others for conversation
  2. Makes conversations playful times.
  3. Converses during literacy activities.
  4. Converses easily as part of physical play.
  5. Has pretend conversations.
  6. Makes games of conversations.
  7. Wants others to know what he knows.
  8. Enjoys the attention he gets in conversations.


  1. Takes turns with others
  2. Responds to other's meaning and intentions.
  3. Stays on one topic for several exchanges
  4. Allows partner to lead the topic.
  5. Shows interest in what partner has to say.
  6. Understands when partner want s to change the topic.


  1. Converses to get information
  2. Converses to enjoy being with others
  3. Converses to tell stories.
  4. Converses to get to know others.
  5. Converses to argue or compete.
  6. Converses to manipulate others.
  7. Converses to solve problems.
  8. Converses to share ideas.
  9. Converses during playtime.


  1. Insists on his own topic.
  2. Interrupts others.
  3. Talks at rather than with others.
  4. Repeats his ideas excessively.
  5. Shifts topics rapidly.
  6. Ignores what others say
  7. Initiates but does not respond
  8. Responds but does not initiate.
  9. Dominates turns by constantly talking.


The following are ways to help your child have conversations.

  1. Conversations mean exchanging words back and forth on a share topic.
  2. Start with strategies that come most easily for you.
  3. Try one or two as you play with your child, then watch how he responds.
  4. Keep doing the ones that keep your child talking with you.
  5. If certain ones seem uncomfortable, do not push yourself. There are many different ways to be effective.
  6. Try new strategies when little is happening with your child.
  7. Determine success by what results in longer conversations on different topics.
  8. Be patient and feel energized by every new communication. However small it seems, it is important for your child.


  1. Take turns with your child in conversations
  2. Take one turn then wait for your child to take one.
  3. Avoid dominating the conversation.
  4. Wait for a turn silently with a clear expectation on your face.
  5. Make the conversation part of a turn taking play activity.
  6. Keep the child for 'one more turn' when he stops participating.
  7. Keep your child on one topic for several turns.
  8. Try to initiate and respond about equally between the two of you.
  9. Allow silence when your child does not immediately respond.
  10. Think of conversation more like a game of ping-pong than darts.


  1. Respond to the personal meaning of what your child says.
  2. Encourage your child to respond to what you say.
  3. Talk in ways your child can talk.
  4. Talk about your child's interests, half the time.
  5. Show your child to talk about your interests some of the time.
  6. Discourage your child from talking only about himself.
  7. Talk about what your child is doing.
  8. Join into his activity and talk about what you are doing together.


  1. Respond verbally to what your child is doing.
  2. Respond verbally to what your child is saying.
  3. Respond once then wait for your child to say more.
  4. Respond by showing your child a little more to say.
  5. Respond by staying on the topic.
  6. Respond more to positive than negative talking.
  7. Respond without judgment or criticism.
  8. Respond with a correction without judgment.
  9. Respond without demanding the impossible from your child. 10. Respond in the ways that gets the most response from your child.


  1. Talk to behaviors you want more of.
  2. Do not talk to behaviors you want less of.
  3. Regularly ask yourself: "Do I want this behavior to continue?"
  4. Look away when your child is doing something you want to decrease.
  5. Do not talk to your child when taking him to time-out.
  6. Remind yourself that your attention is like a fertilizer to your child.
  7. Teach your child's partners to attend to the positive and ignore the negative.


  1. Make conversations more playful than task oriented.
  2. Have conversations more for companionship than information.
  3. Respond to your child's emotions.
  4. Show affection and warmth.
  5. Be animated.
  6. Be more interesting than your child's distractions.
  7. Laugh authentically.
  8. Accept child's ideas without criticism.
  9. Talk about your and the child's feelings.
  10. Make conversations out of your child's play and pretend.

Previous: Social Language

Next: Civil and Emotional Life

Dr. James MacDonald 332 Mimring Columbus, Ohio 43202 Phone/Fax (614)447-0768 macdonaldj86@gmail.com