Healthy Living in the North

Talk spots

Adult and child outside

What are your family’s talk spots?

What is a “talk spot”?

A talk spot is literally a spot to talk to someone. The idea behind talk spots is to remind people of times and places where it is ideal to be present in the moment and communicate with those around us. We get to the spot and it’s our incoming reminder: time to stop and talk!

Why do we need designated talk spots to remind us to stop and talk?

We live in a busy world that is driven by technology. We have a million things to do and are constantly distracted by screens, incoming texts, phone calls, and emails demanding our attention. More and more of our communication is happening via technology and there is less face to face conversation. All of these things can prevent us from recognizing the communication opportunities that are right in front of us.

Where can my talk spots be?

Here are a few examples of talk spots I suggest:

  • The table: Mealtimes are natural opportunities for conversation. You are sitting face to face and looking at each other, which is ideal for communication. Mealtimes provide opportunities to expand on your child’s vocabulary. You can label the food items (e.g., apple), describe the food (e.g., hot, cold, soft, crunchy), and talk about actions at mealtime (e.g., pouring the milk, cutting the meat). You can chat about what will be happening that day or what happened that day.
  • The car: When you are driving, you are forced to sit and slow down. It gives us the time to talk with our children and wait for a response. Slowing down and waiting are important elements for language development. Driving also provides new vocabulary opportunities: you can talk about the objects you see (e.g., garbage truck, hospital, school, dog, snow), the places you are going (e.g., preschool), and the people you are going to see (e.g., grandma).
  • Waiting rooms: You are waiting anyway, so why not put away the phone and talk? Talk about what is happening in the waiting room (e.g., “we are waiting for our turn”, “that boy is sitting and waiting, too”). Talk about what is going to happen in the appointment (e.g., “the dentist is going to look in your mouth”).
  • The bath: Baths need to happen and naturally create face to face interaction. At bath time, you can talk about body parts (e.g., feet, toes) and use action words (e.g., wash, rinse, splash, pour).
  • Change time / getting dressed: Talking when you are changing your child can help distract you and your little one from the task at hand :) It is a time to use descriptive language, clothing vocabulary (e.g., shirt on, pants on) or use sequencing terms (e.g., first we put your diaper on, then your shirt, your pants go on last). It is a time to offer choices (e.g., “red shirt or blue shirt?”). Offering choices can promote language development. You are providing a model of the words you would like your child to imitate, making it easier for them to repeat. Choices also help children recognize that words have power and give children a sense of self control.
  • The grocery store: The store provides many opportunities for vocabulary growth. You can talk about the different food items or describe their attributes (e.g., red apple or green apple), you can talk about quantity concepts (e.g., one cabbage, a few pears). You can also work on social skills, like saying “hi”/”bye” to the cashier.
  • Bedtime: A wonderful time to sit and talk with your child. It is also a good time to read to your child. Books expose children to new words and provide repetition, which is key for learning language.

The month of May is Speech and Hearing Month. It is a time to raise awareness about the importance of communication. As the Speech-Language and Audiology Canada website states: “The ability to speak, hear, and be heard is more vital to our everyday lives than most of us realize.”

Get out there and try some of the suggested talk spots! Try coming up with your own talk spots that may be better suited for your family. Have fun being in the moment, talking and connecting! Remember that to learn to use language, children need to have someone to talk to.

Trisha Stowe

About Trisha Stowe

Trisha was born and raised in the north. She started her career with Northern Health as a Speech Language Pathologist in 2012. In her current role, she supports children who have communication difficulties and their families. In her spare time, she loves exploring the north and everything it has to offer with her family.

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To swab or not to swab

Cotton swabs

Earwax is supposed to be there and is the very substance nature designed to protect our ears. Trying to remove it with cotton swabs is ineffectual and can cause serious damage to the eardrum.

“Hi Johnny,” I say to the child in my office chair. “I’m just going to take a peek to see if you have any bananas in your ears.” Johnny looks at me as if to say, “gee, this lady’s crazy” and the look of apprehension that had been on his face has now shifted to his mother’s. “I’m sorry,” she says, “They must be quite dirty. I haven’t had a chance to clean them.” My next question may set the tone for the remainder of the appointment. The last thing a mother wants to do is harm her child and I certainly don’t want to give her the impression I think she will, but I need to know. “How do you clean them?” I ask.

We’ve all heard it said: nothing smaller than your elbow should go into your ear. The manufacturers of the cotton swab warn against putting this device into the ear canal, yet it is well known that the main reason it is purchased is to clean the wax (cerumen) out of one’s ears – despite the fact that it is quite ineffectual at doing so. There is nothing on the end of a swab to grab and pull at a chunk of wax. If there is a substantial amount of wax in the ear, the swab is only going to push wax further into the ear canal (best case scenario). Worst case scenario: an accidental move can push the swab straight into the danger zone and possibly damage the eardrum significantly.

It’s true that many people report using swabs daily without incident. People report speeding in automobiles without incident as well. But any emergency doctor can tell you they’ve treated accident victims who are injured due to excessive speed, just like any doctor or audiologist can report they’ve seen a damaged eardrum due to an attempt to remove wax.

All of this really misses the point: the wax is supposed to be there and is the very substance nature designed to protect our ears. It is created and lives in the outer part of the ear canal and its purpose is to moisturize and keep things like dust, dirt, and bugs from getting deep into the ear. It constantly migrates outwards where it dries and falls out of the ear, often unnoticed by us.

There are instances, however, where a lot of wax can be problematic. Some people’s ears naturally produce more wax than others. Also, hearing aids do not allow for wax’s natural migration out of the ear, trapping it in the canal and eventually rendering the hearing aid ineffective. If this happens, then indeed the cerumen must be removed. But here’s the important part: it must be removed by a trained medical professional. Before removing the wax, they will use equipment that allows them to see into the ear canal properly, making sure there are no contraindications to removing the wax.

And I can assure you they will not be using cotton swabs!

… or candles. But perhaps that’s a topic for another day!

Laura Curran

About Laura Curran

An audiologist at the Terrace Health Unit, Laura was born and raised in Nova Scotia but has made the trek to Terrace twice in her career - most recently in 2014, as she found she missed the beauty of the area. She started out in private practice for a national hearing aid dispenser and then moved into research before finding her main passion: Clinical Pediatric Audiology. When not working, Laura enjoys crafting, quilting, and camping with her husband.

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