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Why Reciprocal Conversation Matters

Back-and-forth conversation is a seemingly easy yet integral part of our daily lives. Most of our meaningful relationships were formed through this reciprocal conversation format. These interactions are even more important for our children and have been proven to have an effect on children’s overall language development.

A recent study has shown that the more children participate in reciprocal conversations with their parents and caregivers, the greater brain activity they have in the area responsible for language processing and production. This study also found a positive correlation between the number of conversational turns children engage in and their standardized test scores.

These interactions, however, cannot be from passive participation (i.e. watching TV or listening to adult conversation) but instead require an active participant. The study found that the following skills could only be learned from being an active participant in a conversation:

  • Starting an interaction

  • Learning how and when to take conversational turns

  • Learning how to send an effective message

  • Practicing use of words and gestures

  • Learning to ask social wondering questions

  • Effective verbal problem solving skills

  • Communicating their point of view

  • Building confidence in communication skills

How to teach these skills

Practicing these skills is easy! They can be practiced in everyday situations such as going for a walk, cooking dinner, or getting dressed. Any time your child is content or in a good mood simply “observe, wait and listen”. This model helps the child initiate the conversation. By initiating a conversation, the child is significantly more likely to generate a follow up due to their interest in the subject.

First, you will need to get into an appropriate conversational position (i.e. face-to-face) and observe your child’s body language when they are engaged in an activity. Wait for them to communicate with you, whether it be via words or gestures. Listen to their message and respond. Once the child has made their communicative intent, respond immediately by doing something that is directly related to what they have just communicated. Be patient and allow for their next response while the interaction progresses.

These seemingly small steps will have a huge impact on your child’s language development. Let’s make learning fun!

If you have questions regarding reciprocal conversation, visit our website HERE or contact us HERE.


  1. Koohi, A. (2018) The Power of Turn-taking: How Back-and-forth Interactions Help Children Learn Language. Retrieved from:

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