10 Ways to Improve Your Middle-Schooler’s Communication Skills

By Lexi Walters Wright

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Middle-schoolers with learning and attention issues may need your help to improve the communication skills they need to socialize effectively. Try some of these tips to get started.

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Mother and her middle school age daughter sitting and talking on the grass in a park
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Keep conversations going with your child.

Many children clam up around their parents during adolescence. Kids who struggle with conversation and speaking or who have language issues may be even more reluctant to communicate. Even if your child seems uninterested, try to talk together as much as possible. It takes ongoing practice for your child to be comfortable speaking to you, teachers and friends.

(Having trouble coming up with interesting topics? Check out these Pickles & Predicaments conversation starter ideas from The Family Dinner Project.)

Close up of a girl reading notes tacked up on her mirror
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Recount the day.

Because middle school schedules can get extremely busy, try to catch up with one another when you and your child finally are 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 with communication issues.

Close up of a father sitting outside listening to his listening to his daughter talk
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Model good listening skills.

After your child is finished telling you something, repeat back part of what was said. Then follow up with a related question: “I know that you really studied for that chemistry 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.

Parents sitting on the couch talking with their child
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Role-play conversations.

Middle school is a time of “firsts” for most kids: first school dances, first sports banquets, confirmations and bar mitzvahs, and more. All of these experiences have a social component. Anticipating what kinds of conversations your child may face can help him feel more confident and prepared.

Before each social event, practice with your child when and what to say to other kids. Take turns “playing” each person in the conversation so that your child can think through different scenarios, conversation topics and responses.

Boy with a group of kids in the park standing apart with his arms crossed
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Point out body language.

It can be tricky for kids with communication issues to pick up on nonverbal cues, sometimes called body language. 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?” 

Father and daughter reading on the floor together
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Keep reading together.

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. Just make it fun!

Mother and son watching TV together and discussing  the show
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Be critics together.

After finishing a book, movie or even live performance, replay the highlights: What did you each like and dislike about 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.

As a bonus, this kind of sharing also promotes connection between you and your child. (For more bonding ideas, read on.)

Father and son sitting outdoors playing a board game together
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Play word games.

Lots of classic games encourage language skills for kids who have communication and attention challenges. Plus, your child may not be aware 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 non-verbal cues. Scrabble and Boggle encourage kids to create words from a set of given letters. Apples to Apples gets kids pairing funny words and actions.

Boy standing in the kitchen with his father and grandfather talking
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Ask your child’s opinion.

Communicating requires your child to reflect on thoughts and emotions. Using “I think” or “I feel” statements is good practice for having successful everyday conversations.

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. Or inquire what should be discussed at an upcoming IEP meeting.

Mother offering encouragement to her son for writing in his journal
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Encourage journaling or blogging.

Keeping a diary or journal can be an enjoyable way for some kids to express their thoughts and feelings. Writing about day-to-day activities allows a person to think through ideas and 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, such as Kidblog, WordPress or Tumblr, allow for combining words, pictures, videos and links.

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10 Ways to Improve Your Grade-Schooler’s Communication Skills

Grade school kids are just learning how to interact with their classmates and make friends. But those who have trouble speaking and other issues may need your help to learn how to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

10 Ways to Improve Your High-Schooler’s Communication Skills

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

About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright is a veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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