Is the idea of communicating with your middle-schooler exhausting? This is a challenge for many families. Many middle-schoolers struggle to communicate well, which also makes it hard for them to socialize effectively. If this is the case for your child, try some of these tips to get started in turning the situation around.
1. Keep conversations going with your child.
Many middle-schoolers clam up around their parents. Kids who struggle with conversation, language, or speaking may be even more reluctant to communicate. Even if your child doesn’t seem interested, try to talk together as much as possible. It takes practice for your child to be comfortable speaking to you, teachers, and friends.
2. Recount the day.
Middle school schedules can get extremely busy. Try to catch up with your child when you’re both finally home (or on the way home) together.
Encourage your child to describe how parts of the day were spent. Ask: What were the best and worst parts of school? Easiest and hardest? Did anything surprising happen? This helps with recall and sequencing, two key skills that can be difficult for kids who may struggle with communication.
3. Model good listening skills.
After your child is finished telling you something, repeat back part of what you just heard. Then follow up with a related question: “I know that you really studied for that social studies test but still found it tough. Do you think you’ll do anything different next time?” Pay full attention while your child is talking. Demonstrate what good listening looks like, in addition to how it sounds.
4. Have practice conversations with your child.
Middle school is a time of “firsts” for most kids: first school dances, first sports banquets, confirmations, and more. All of these experiences have a social component. Anticipating what kinds of conversations may come up can help your child feel more confident and prepared.
Before each social event, practice with your child. Talk about what to say to other kids and when to say it. Take turns “playing” each person in the conversation so that your child can think through different scenarios, conversation topics, and responses.
5. Point out body language.
It can be tricky for kids to pick up on nonverbal cues, sometimes called body language. If your child struggles with communication, this can be especially hard. Try to find appropriate times when you can talk about how the people around you feel based on how they’re acting. For example, “The man in the car next to us is singing and smiling. How do you think his day is going?” “How do you think the woman in that long line at the bank was feeling? How could you tell?”
6. Read together as much as possible.
Reading can help strengthen your child’s decision-making and independent thinking skills. And both of these help with everyday communication. Consider letting your child choose a book that you both read (or listen to) and talk it through.
And don’t think you need to give up your story-at-bedtime routine just because your baby isn’t so little anymore: Many parents are surprised that their tween or teen still likes being read to. You may want to take turns reading. Try fantasy stories or classics from your own childhood, and don’t worry about misread words. These approaches will make it fun for you — and for your child.
7. Enjoy movies, books, and shows together.
After finishing a book, movie, or even a live performance, replay the highlights: What did you each like and dislike about the plot? How about 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.
As a bonus, this kind of sharing also promotes connection between you and your child. (For more bonding ideas, read on.)
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. Ask for your child’s opinion.
Communicating gets kids to reflect on their thoughts and emotions. Using “I think” or “I feel” statements is good practice for having successful conversations each day.
Practice that skill by asking your child to weigh in on daily decisions and voice feelings. You might seek an opinion on something at home, such as whether to remodel the family room.
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 tweens and 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 tween or teen may prefer to keep a private or public blog instead. Simple blogging tools, like Fanschool, WordPress, and Tumblr, allow for combining words, pictures, videos, and links.