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

By Lexi Walters Wright
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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.

Talk regularly with your child.

Kids who have trouble communicating may be reluctant to talk at all. Your job is to encourage your child to initiate or engage in conversation as much as possible so she begins to feel more comfortable sharing her thoughts.

Chat during car rides about where you’re headed, or during meal prep about the steps involved in what you’re making. Talk during commercial breaks about favorite parts of the TV show so far. Demonstrate how to make conversations relevant to what’s happening around your child. Introduce new words and concepts all the time. Model phrases she can use as conversation starters.

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 kids with communication issues may struggle with. Recount the events of your day as well. 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.)

Listen to and reflect what your child says.

Model one of the most important conversation skills: Listening to and expanding upon what someone else says. After your child has told you something, repeat back part of what your child said, 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?”

Role-play conversations.

Talk through the types of situations your child might be the most nervous about—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 so that your child can think through different scenarios, conversation topics and responses.

Point out body language.

It can be tricky for kids with communication troubles to pick up on nonverbal cues, sometimes called body language. For your grade school child, consider showing and explaining body language: “I’m crossing my arms because I’m feeling angry,” or “When you roll your eyes at me, I feel disrespected.”

Use conversation starters.

After a long day, it can be difficult to come up with something fun to discuss. Explore conversation starter ideas from the Family Dinner Project. And take a look at tips for talking with your child.

Topics could range from “What was the funniest thing you saw in school today?” to “I think the car needs a good cleaning. Should we take it to the car wash, or do it ourselves? What would you like to be in charge of? Bumpers? Vacuuming?”

Read together.

It doesn’t matter what you read with your child. What’s most important is that you do it together. Even if your child chooses the same books every night, she is developing a better understanding of the character and plots and vocabulary used. Take turns reading aloud to one another, even if your child just fills a word in here and there. After finishing a book or TV show, discuss the setting, plot, characters and any new words that might be in the story.

Play conversational “catch.”

Try getting your child used to the back-and-forth nature of conversations:

Player 1: Throws a ball while asking a question. “How’s school?” Player 2: Catches and answers the question. But before throwing the ball back, she must ask another related question. (“Good! How’s math club?”)

The goal is to eventually have kids to feel comfortable starting and continuing conversations.

Ask your child’s opinion.

Communicating requires your child to reflect on feelings. So ask your child to weigh in on daily decisions. It can be as simple as which library you should go to or where you might spend your vacation. Also ask your child’s opinion about relevant happenings, such as, “Should the other team have won?” Thinking about recent news events? Using “I think” or “I feel” statements is good practice for having successful everyday conversations.

Encourage journaling.

Some kids find it easier to talk with other people once they’ve had a chance to think their thoughts through. Writing in a diary or journal about day-to-day activities and feelings may help your child 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 or what she’s been doing.

About the Author

About the Author

Lexi Walters Wright 

is the former Community Manager at Understood (u.org/community). As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD 

is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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