Kids in grade school are just learning how to interact with their classmates and make friends. At this age, kids may need help with making conversation and with communicating their thoughts and feelings.
1. Talk regularly with your child.
Kids who have trouble communicating may not want to talk at all. Your job is to encourage your child to begin or join in conversations as much as possible. This may help your child feel more comfortable about opening up.
During car rides, chat about where you’re headed. During meal prep, chat about the steps involved in what you’re making. Talk during commercials about which part of the TV show you each liked best.
Demonstrate how to make conversations relevant to what’s happening around your child. Introduce new words and concepts all the time. Model phrases your child can use as conversation starters.
2. Describe the day.
Encourage your child to tell you how the day went — in as much detail as possible. Ask, “What were the best and worst parts of school?” This helps with recall and sequencing: two skills that kids who struggle with communication may have trouble with. Tell your child about your day, too. Maybe say something like, “I was in the grocery store today. Guess what I saw in the fruit aisle?”
As a bonus, this kind of sharing also promotes connection between you and your child. (Read on for more bonding ideas.)
3. Listen to and repeat what your child says.
One of the most important conversation skills is listening to and expanding upon what someone else says. You can show your child how that works by doing it yourself. After your child has told you something, repeat part of it, and then follow up with a question: “Wow, it sounds like that art project took a lot of patience. What other project do you think would be fun to make? And what different materials would you need?”
4. Have practice conversations with your child.
Talk through the types of situations your child might be the most nervous about. These might include talking to other kids while waiting for the bus, for example, or sitting with them at lunch. Then practice what your child might say. Take turns pretending to be each person in the conversation. That way, your child can think through different scenarios, conversation topics, and responses.
5. Point out body language.
Kids who struggle with communication may not always pick up on other people’s nonverbal cues. Sometimes these cues are called body language.
For kids this age, consider showing and explaining body language. You can say, “I’m crossing my arms because I’m feeling angry,” or “When you roll your eyes at me, I feel disrespected.”
6. Start fun conversations with your child.
Topics could range from “What was the funniest thing you saw in school today?” to “What do you think it looks like on the other side of the moon?”
After a long day, it can be difficult to come up with something engaging to discuss. Explore conversation starter ideas from the Family Dinner Project.
7. Read with your child.
It doesn’t matter what you read with your child. What’s most important is that you do it together. If you’re concerned that your child chooses the same books every night, don’t be. Reading the same book over and over helps kids (and adults) develop a better understanding of the characters, plot, and vocabulary.
Take turns reading to one another, even if your child just fills a word in here and there. After finishing a book or a TV show, discuss the setting, plot, characters, and any new words that might be in the story.
8. Teach your child how to play conversational “catch.”
The goal is for your child to get comfortable having back-and-forth conversations. Here’s how to play:
Player 1: Throws a ball while asking a question. “How’s school?”
Player 2: Catches the ball and answers the question. But before throwing the ball back, Player 2 must ask another related question. (“Good! How’s math club?”)
9. Ask your child’s opinion.
Communicating requires kids to reflect on their feelings. The conversation can be as simple as which library you should go to or whether they think dogs or cats are friendlier.
Ask your child’s opinion about relevant topics. You could ask things like “Should the other team have won?” Show your child how answers that begin “I think” or “I feel” can lead to successful everyday conversations.
10. Encourage your child to keep a journal.
Some kids find it easier to talk with other people once they’ve had a chance to think their thoughts through. It can help to write in a diary or journal about day-to-day activities and feelings. The process can make it easier for your child to form thoughts to share with others. This can ultimately make your child feel more prepared and confident when someone asks what’s been going on.
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About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.