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Conversation Starters for All Ages

In order to have more dynamic conversations with your child, it is important to ask open-ended questions, rather than those that can be answered with “yes,” “no,” or other, one-word answers. Conversation requires details that can be expanded on. Encourage your child to ask questions in return. Remember: conversation is not a one-way street!

Conversation Starters for 2–4

  • What makes you happy?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What are you really good at?
  • What is your favourite color? What things have that color on them?
  • What do you like best about your favorite toy?
  • What do you want to wear to school tomorrow?
  • Did you smile or laugh extra today?
  • What do you think you’re going to dream about tonight?
  • What sounds do you like?
  • What makes the best fort?
  • What did you eat for lunch?
  • Did you catch anyone picking their nose?
  • What games did you play at recess?
  • Who made you smile today?

Conversation Starters for 5+

  • What makes you happy?
  • What have your friends been up to?
  • If you could do anything right now, what would you do?
  • What character makes you laugh the most?
  • If you opened a store, what would you sell?
  • What’s your Superhero name and what powers do you have?
  • What makes you feel brave?
  • What makes you feel loved?
  • If you could give $100 to a charity, which would you choose?
  • How would you design a treehouse?
  • What do you enjoy giving people?
  • If you wrote a book, what would it be about?
  • If you designed clothes, would would they look like?
  • Where would you like to travel? How would you get there?
  • What makes you feel energized?
  • If you were in a play, what would your character be like?
  • How do you think animals communicate?
  • What are some of the best things about nature?
  • What makes your friends so awesome?
  • What makes you so awesome?
  • Do you have any inventions in your brain?
  • What are three things you want to do this summer?
  • If you could make up a new holiday, what would it be?
  • What makes someone smart?
  • What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  • Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
  • What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
  • What new fact did you learn today?
  • What would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?
  • If one of your classmates could be the teacher for the day who would you want it to be? Why?
  • If you had the chance to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
  • Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet? Why not?
  • Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
  • What is one thing you did today that was helpful?
  • When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
  • What rule was the hardest to follow today?
  • What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
  • Which area of your school is the most fun?
  • Which playground skill do you plan to master this year?
  • Does anyone in your class have a hard time following the rules?
  • If you could change anything in the world, what would you change and how?
  • If you could have any 3 wishes granted, what would they be?
  • If all your clothes could only be one color, what color would you choose?
  • If you could change the lunch menu at (school/home) what would you change?

Sources: (SOURCE 1), (SOURCE 2), (SOURCE 3)

Conversation Tips
Ages 0–18 months

  • Encourage your child to initiate. The best way to encourage a child to initiate conversation is to stop talking yourself. The principle of Observe, Wait, and Listen (a strategy found in all Hanen Programs) encourages caregivers to pause (without speaking) and give the child an opportunity to initiate an idea during motivating situations and routines. It is difficult to Observe, Wait and Listen, and it requires a conscious effort not to talk or direct the child. However, if you count to 10 without speaking or doing anything, you will be giving your child a chance to initiate.
  • Build baby’s vocabulary by pointing out objects you are using, eating, or looking at, and explain what you are doing in simple language whenever possible.
  • Respond to non-verbal communication. A conversation doesn’t have to involve talking! Children learn the basics of conversation well before they learn to talk. When children take turns while interacting, they are building their conversation skills. Therefore, when a child looks, reaches, gestures, makes a sound or uses facial expression, treat this as a conversational turn and respond to keep the conversation going!
  • Babies take in a lot of information about their world in the first year. By their first birthday, normally they are able to follow simple directions, such as following, picking up something, or blowing out a candle.
  • When you are burping your child, or doing other similar activities, talk out loud. “Do you like when I comb your hair?” “Look at that big smile!”
  • One of the first skills that a baby will learn is the basic structure of conversation (expressive skills and receptive skills). They learn these skills through imitation. Is it important to respond to your baby as much as possible when they are trying to communicate with you using their expressive skills). This will teach them that communication is a mutual exercise.
  • Talking in a sing-songy voice can help your child understand intonation and the separation of words.
  • Repeat the expressive sounds you hear from your baby, and then say the word properly. For example: Baby: “Do-do” You: Yes, do-do. Dog.”
  • Keep track of your baby’s developmental milestones. If you feel your child’s development is delayed, and your child has not started speaking their first words by Year 1, it could be beneficial to schedule an appointment with a local Speech-Language Pathologist.
  • Encourage toddler humor by being silly yourself.
  • Use incongruities that toddlers understand. For example, saying “shoes” instead of “pants.”
  • Offer a flexible play environment.

Sources: (SOURCE 1), (SOURCE 2)

Ages 18 months–3 years

  • Ask questions that are open-ended or give a choice. Avoid yes/no questions. For example, ask “What do you want to drink?” or “Would you like orange juice or milk?” instead of “Do you want milk?”
  • Use new words when your child can learn the meaning from the experience. For example, at a restaurant, you can say things like “She is pouring you water.” or “Let’s slice your bread.”
  • Take turns talking, being mindful of the things your child wants to talk about. The more time you spend talking together, the better your child’s conversational abilities will become.
  • Set up situations where your child needs to use words to express themselves. For example:
    • Give your child a bowl of cereal without a spoon.
    • Give your child toothpaste but no toothbrush.
    • Read a menu upside down.
    • Place a child’s toy or book slightly out of reach.
  • Provide more comments than questions. Comments provide more information to help a child understand vocabulary, emotion, and consequence. For example, instead of “Did the blocks fall down?” say “Uh-oh! The blocks fell down.” Or, instead of “Do you hear that?” you can say “I hear a fire engine! Do you see it?”
  • Give enough time between your own comments for the child to listen and formulate their own answer.
  • Talk at the same level as your child. (This does not mean to use “baby speak,” but to use vocabulary and speech patterns that they will understand and can respond to.)
  • Use many different kinds of words when talking with your child.
  • 3-year-olds enjoy sharing their sense of humor with friendly adults. They love to laugh at things they consider implausible or incredible.
  • Young 3-year-olds love to laugh at themselves, especially when they do something ridiculous or by accident.
  • Experimenting with the sounds of words will send some preschoolers into waves of laughter. They are delighted if an adult repeats silly rhyming, such as “pigety, wigety.” Preschoolers are fascinated by intentionally misnaming things and playing with words.
  • Though the logic of a joke or the meaning of a certain play on words may be lost on them, 4-year-olds will actively laugh at or create simple jokes.

Sources: (SOURCE 1), (SOURCE 2), (SOURCE 3), (SOURCE 4)

Ages 3–5 years

  • Add words to your child’s sentences to make them more complete. For example:
    • Child: “Girl eat pancake.” Adult: “Yes, the girl is eating pancakes for breakfast.”
  • Spend time talking about what you are doing and have your child explain what they are doing.
  • Take turns describing pictures in books. Make up your own stories about the pictures. If you aren’t near a book, you can people watch and comment on passerby, cars or animals instead.
  • When your child uses incorrect grammar, restate the sentence with the correct grammar, without saying they were wrong. For example:
    • Child: “Him hurt hisself.” You: “Oh no. Did he hurt himself?”
  • Remember that repetition is key. Children have to hear words many times before they can use them in their own speech.
  • Consider what your child is telling you, and think of “WH” questions (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How) you can ask to keep the conversation going. For example:
    • Child: “I ate lunch at school.” You: “What did you eat?/How did it taste?/Who did you eat with?/Did you eat everything on your plate?/What did you do after lunch?”
  • Expand your child’s vocabulary by introducing a new word to a daily routine. For example, instead of just using “hot,” “cold,” or “warm,” try “boiling,” “chilly,” and “lukewarm.”

Sources: (SOURCE 1), (SOURCE 2), (SOURCE 3)

Ages 5+

  • Use sentences with and, because, and or. For example, “We should wear our boots because it’s going to rain.”
  • Make your child’s sentences longer by adding a new idea. For example, “This puppy needs food to help it grow.”
  • Help your child talk about the future. “What will happen next? Then what?” “What should we do tomorrow?” “What will she say…?”
  • Ask questions which will help your child solve problems. “I wonder what will happen if we…?” “Why did he…?” “How can we…?”
  • Help your child to put events in the right order. Talk about where you are going before you go. Talk about it while you are there. Discuss it again after you come home. Draw a picture about what you did. Encourage your child to tell a friend about your activity.
  • Help your child see how things are the ‘same’ or ‘different’. For example, “These are all things to wear, but do they all go on your head?” “Let’s sort out the farm animals and the wild animals.” “Can you find all the animals that can swim?”
  • Use picture books but make up your story to describe the action in the pictures. Take turns talking about the pictures on the pages. After you watch a TV show together, talk about what happened.
    Encourage your child to listen carefully. Be funny! Say silly things such as “Let’s take the airplane downtown.” “How about some pillows for lunch?”
  • Kindergarten children love knock-knock jokes because they follow a predictable pattern that they can easily replicate. Practice making knock-knock jokes with your child.
  • At this age, children are learning the rules of conversation, and will use humor to test the limits of those rules. Replacing words, changing sentence patterns, and playing with intonation are all part of humor, but they also cement the structures of language.
  • As the famous pianist and comedian Victor Borge once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” There is something very bonding about children sharing a laugh together. Laughter breaks down boundaries and separations and builds connections.
  • Watch carefully for teasing or sarcastic jokes that hurt other children. These must be stopped immediately. Discuss why they must stop. By the kindergarten year, children begin to understand and discuss how others feel and can engage in this type of group conversation.

Source: (SOURCE 1), (SOURCE 2)