Just how powerful are back-and-forth conversations for a child’s language learning? Well, new evidence shows that back-and-forth interactions between an adult and a child actually change a child’s brain and lead to better language outcomes. The more children participate in back-and-forth interactions with their caregivers, the more activity they have in the part of the brain responsible for language production and processing.

Some helpful Hanen Strategies

  • OWL (Observe, wait and Listen) – This key strategy allows the child to lead the interaction. It gives him the opportunity to take the first turn about something that interests him, and allows you to respond to what has captured his attention. This is a critical first step because children are much more likely to take another turn and stay in the conversation when they have started the interaction:
    • Observe – Get face-to-face with your child and don’t say anything. Just pay close attention to what he’s interested in. His eye gaze, gestures, facial expressions and sounds are important clues.
    • Wait – Without speaking, wait to give your child a chance to send you a message. Remember that he doesn’t need to use words – he might just give you a quick look or make a gesture. Pay close attention or you might miss it.
    • Listen – Your child may also send a message with words or sounds. Treat any sound, look or gesture as your child’s first “turn” in the interaction.


  • Follow Your Child’s Lead – Now that your child has taken the first turn, respond immediately by saying or doing something that’s directly related to what he just communicated. For example, if he stacks a few blocks on top of each other and then looks at you and smiles, you could say, “Wow, you’re building a tower!”. Then wait quietly again. If your child takes another turn on the same topic, take another turn as well. Then wait without speaking for him to take another turn. When he does, that’s success! You’ve established a back-and-forth interaction. Keep it going for as many turns as possible by sticking to what your child is interested in, responding by building on what he has said or done, and remembering to wait to give him a chance to respond.

For more information please see https://www.betterstart.ie/2021/09/21/the-power-of-turn-taking-how-back-and-forth-interactions-help-children-learn-language/



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