10 ways to improve your high-schooler’s communication skills

Communication skills are important for high-schoolers. Teachers, college admissions staff, and employers expect high school students to be able to clearly communicate. If your child is having trouble, these strategies can help.

1. Make time to keep talking to your high-schooler.

Between school, sports, service projects, jobs, and other activities, it may be difficult to find time to talk. And once your high-schooler drives? You can probably say goodbye to those opportunities to chat while you rode or walked together.

But it’s still important to keep conversations going. Talking with you is good practice for the interactions your teen has with people outside your family. Choose a time that regularly works for the two of you to schedule weekly walk-and-talks or family dinners (with no screens), for example.

2. Talk about the news.

Even if your teen doesn’t read the newspaper, news events will be broadcast on TV and the radio. They may also come up on social media and in discussions in and out of the classroom. 

Teens who struggle with language may be reluctant to be a part of conversations about current events. Talking about the news with your child can make a difference. Having conversations can help teens sort out their thoughts on a particular subject and get used to sharing.

3. Enforce good listening skills.

Kids this age are often expected to pay full attention when someone else is talking. Teachers, guidance counselors, and co-workers want to make sure that what they say is understood. Encourage your teen to politely ask questions if something was hard to hear or if they didn’t understand. 

And while your child is talking to you, try to give your full attention. Demonstrate what good listening looks like, in addition to how it sounds.

4. Show your teen how to find things to talk about.

Young adults may find themselves expected to make small talk with adults. That can feel daunting for someone with communication issues. Finding the right things to talk about takes practice. 

After your child finishes telling you something, repeat part of what was said. Next, follow up with a related question: “Next week’s quiz sounds hard. How will you get ready for it?” Then talk about your day and have your teen ask you something related. Over time, this can feel more natural and less forced.

5. Use social media to help your teen prepare for a conversation.

Does your teen use social media? Photos and videos posted by other kids can be good conversation starters for the next time they meet: “Hey, where was that picnic you went on?” And teens who don’t usually start conversations may post a picture that will make other kids ask a question.

6. Help your teen prepare for likely conversations.

A teen who can anticipate social situations will feel more confident walking into them. Whether it’s a college fair or the prom, help your child practice what to say to other people, and when. Show your teen how to adjust both the tone and the topics of conversation. Is the conversation with adults or with other teens? Take turns “playing” each person so your child can think through different scenarios and responses.

7. Explain body language to your child.

Kids who struggle with communicating may have trouble picking up on nonverbal cues. Sometimes these cues are called body language. Some people may not understand their own body language. But body language can affect how your child is perceived in interviews for colleges, programs, or jobs.

You can help your child get ready for an interview by practicing together. Take a video of your child answering practice questions. (If you don’t have a device that takes videos, you may be able to borrow one.) Then watch it together and come up with ideas for how your child can improve.

8. Play word games.

Lots of classic games emphasize words and vocabulary. These games are great for kids who learn and think differently. Plus, when kids play games that focus on language skills, they may not be aware of how much interaction is going on with others because the game is so much fun.

Pictionary and charades ask players to draw or act out scenes while others guess what’s happening. They help kids focus on the nonverbal cues of people around them. Scrabble and Boggle encourage kids to create and find words from a set of given letters. Apples to Apples gets kids pairing funny words and actions. Taboo and Buzzword encourage players to think about related words and ideas.

9. Enjoy movies, books, and shows together.

Teens often have to talk about what they’re reading and watching. Anyone from friends, to employers, to college admissions staff might ask about this. It can help your child to feel ready to talk about it. 

Together, choose a book (print, electronic, or audio), a movie, or even a live performance to experience. Afterward, replay the highlights: What did you each like and dislike about the plot and the characters? Did anything happen that your child didn’t understand? This engages your child in the story — an important skill when talking with others.

10. Encourage your child to keep a journal or blog.

Keeping a diary or journal is a low-stress way to express thoughts and feelings. Writing about day-to-day activities allows teens to think through their ideas. It can also help them feel more prepared and confident when it’s time to talk to others. The writing doesn’t have to be polished. It can be just a phrase, a list of ideas, or even a drawing.

Your teen may prefer to keep a private or public blog instead. Simple blogging tools, like WordPress and Tumblr, let users combine words, pictures, videos, and links.

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