A good conversation has a natural flow, it meanders back and forth as we build on ideas, and share the same topic. Conversations are more difficult when a person stays so long on a topic that the listener loses interest, or at the other extreme jumps from one topic to another. This latter challenge is what speech and language therapists would describe as difficulty with topic maintenance.
We’re all guilty of jumping between ideas at times, particularly if we’re distracted or very busy, but some children have a specific difficulty with this. Often it’s easier to spot the child who isn’t saying much, and not notice the chatty child whose conversation is all over the place.This is particularly the case if 1), we’re not listening carefully to what the child is saying, or 2) if a child has been slow to talk, it can be so positive to hear them chatting that we just go along with their ideas.
So, what can help a child to stay on topic?
A quick and easy tool that I use is the idea of a spiral to denote a conversation topic. I tend to draw the spiral to visually represent this to the child, and then show them how they’ve jumped to a different spiral. Once they’re familiar with the idea, then it can be a prompt in conversation (either spoken or visual prompt). Here’s an example of how I’d use this in conversation:
Child: …so we went to the beach and we climbed up the rocks.
Me: That sounds like fun.
Child: I’m building a spaceship
Me: (puzzled face), at the beach
Child: No on Minecraft.
Me: That’s a different spiral, tell me more about what you did at the beach.
If you think that this is a helpful tip, try it out, and let me know how it works for you.