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

By Lexi Walters Wright

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.

Make time to keep talking to your child.

Between school, sports, service projects, jobs and other activities, it may be difficult to find time to talk. And once your teen 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. So choose a time that regularly works for the two of you: Schedule weekly walk-and-talks or family dinners (with no TV), for example.

Tackle touchy topics.

Even if your teen doesn’t read the newspaper, news events will be broadcast on TV and radio. They may also come up on social media and in discussions in and out of the classroom. Language difficulties can make some teens reluctant to participate in these conversations. Talking with you about current events—especially complex ones—can help your teen sort out her thoughts on a particular subject. This can make it easier for her to voice an opinion.

Use these challenging conversation prompts from The Family Dinner Project to get started.

Enforce good listening skills.

Now more than ever, your child is expected to pay full attention when someone else is talking. Teachers, guidance counselors and coworkers want to make sure that what they say is understood. Encourage your teen to politely ask questions when she hasn’t quite heard or comprehended someone. 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.

Model how to find conversational common ground.

Young adults may find themselves expected to make small talk with adults. That can feel daunting for a child with communication issues. Finding commonality with a speaker takes practice. After your child finishes telling you something, repeat back part of what was said. Then follow up with a related question: “Next week’s quiz sounds hard. How will you study?” Then talk about your day and have your teen ask you something related. Over time, this can feel more natural and less forced.

Use social media as conversation prep.

Does your child use social media, such as Twitter or Instagram? The Tweets and photos posted by people your child follows can provide conversation fuel for the next time they meet: “Hey, how was that skiing trip?” Likewise, if your child doesn’t tend to initiate conversations, her use of social media can make it easier for friends to approach her in person.

Role-play 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, during the event. Show your teen how to adjust both the tone and the topics of conversation for adults or for other teens. Take turns “playing” each person so your child can think through different scenarios and responses.

Demystify body language.

Kids with communication challenges may have trouble picking up on nonverbal cues, sometimes called body language. They may not have an awareness of their own body language. But body language can affect how your child is perceived in interviews for colleges, programs or jobs.

Before an interview, videotape your child answering practice questions. (You can borrow a video camera or video-enabled smartphone from the school or library.) Then watch the footage together and come up with suggestions for improvement.

Play word games.

Lots of classic games encourage language skills for kids who have communication or other learning differences. 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 the nonverbal cues of people around them. Scrabble and Boggle encourage kids to create words from a set of given letters. Apples to Apples gets kids pairing funny words and actions. Taboo and Buzzword encourage thinking about related words and ideas.

Be critics together.

Teens are often asked by friends, employers and college admissions staff what they’re reading and watching. Together, choose a book (printed or audio), movie or even 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.

Encourage journaling or blogging.

Keeping a diary or journal is a low-stress way for your child to express 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.