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Communicating with children

Early Years

Birth through 6 years

© How Terrific I Am Book/Maldives/2000
Maldives: A boy and his drum

Although UNICEF and its partners have many years of experience developing communication for school-aged and adolescent children, communication for this youngest group has, for the most part, been targeted at their caregivers (such as family members, early childhood educators and health practitioners). Yet, developmentally appropriate books, songs and other simple and creative media for them can nurture holistic development as well as be a model of responsive caregiving for adults. There are many points of view with regard to the amount, if any, of electronic media to which young children (especially those under the age of 2) should be exposed and whether young children can actually benefit from such media. What is not in question, however, is the tremendous positive potential of interaction with loving adults and siblings through talk, and use of appropriate books, songs and oral stories that meet the specific needs of young children.

These earliest years are one of the most critical times in human development and our investment here establishes the foundations of all learning in the future. There are sufficient data to support the positive potential of quality media that is age-appropriate during the preschool years to help prepare children for entry to school, while also supporting social, emotional, cognitive and physical development.


 Domains Main Developmental Characteristics
  • Early experience of shapes, colours, people, animals, sounds, rhythms, places
  • Developing language
  • Developing awareness and sensitivity to differences in gender, race, disability and early formation of social attitudes
  • Difficulty in distinguishing fantasy from reality and difficulty in understanding causality (that one thing/action leads to another)
  • Concentrating on the concrete aspects of reality (what I can see, hear, touch)
  • Difficulty in understanding codes and conventions of television (like close-up, rerun, flashback, thought bubbles)
  • Growing awareness of gender and other “differences”
  • Learning by doing and playing
  • Learning through repetition and routine
  • Developing motor skills – from crawling to walking, running, exploring the environment and becoming accident-prone
  • Developing fine motor skills in fingers that facilitate independence and learning (e.g., cutting, colouring, tying, washing)
  • Learning to express and control emotions
  • Experiencing new and often-times frightening emotions
  • Developing from total dependency on others to separation and autonomy
  • Evolving awareness of their own and others’ emotions
  • Growing in understanding that others think and feel differently
  • Playing with others, learning to resolve very simple conflicts and to cooperate
  • Showing signs of empathy, pro-social and helping behaviours
  • To know they are loved and safe
  • To develop positive feelings about themselves and others
  • To know that the range of emotions and fears they have are normal
  • To feel good about new learning and experiences
  • To develop resilience by learning to “bounce back” and to seek help

 Implications for Communication

• Use loving tones and simple language
• Model a spirit of inquiry and desire to learn
• Model safe exploration, curiosity and confidence in newfound skills
• Adapt to the child’s growing attention span
• Be playful and portray learning through play
• Use lots of repetition, rhythm and song
• Keep a varied, but not too fast, pace
• Use everyday experiences; stories of other children, families, animals and daily activities
• Use “pretend”, open-ended and imaginative play
• Present and reinforce daily healthy self-care habits
• Present children, similar and different than themselves, playing and working together as equals
• Present loving and caring adults and secure relationships
• Encourage activities: singing, clapping, dancing, movement
• Involve “question and answer” interactions and encourage talk
• Present progressive and non-stereotypical gender language and portrayals of children and adults
• Show simple examples of children, with the help of loving adults, expressing a wide range of emotions, mastering their fears and dealing with difficult issues in healthy ways
• Examples of confident, resilient children who are fair and who stand up for themselves and for others
• Present children making simple choices and expressing their creative opinions

 Download the table



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