The weather is getting a bit cooler, and backpacks and pencils line the store shelves. It’s back to school time–a fresh start!
As kids grow older, their schoolwork becomes more complex. And opportunities to get involved in sports, clubs, and other activities start to grow, too. With many of these changes comes the need for new communication skills. For some kids, this can be a challenge. Speaking up for themselves and communicating with peers and adults isn’t always easy. But these communication skills will set them up for success throughout school, into early adulthood, and beyond. Here’s what you can do to help your child or teen grow into a confident communicator.
Communication skills needed for school
The daily routines of school, classes, homework–it all requires and encourages kids to grow their communication and self-advocacy skills, or their ability to speak up for themselves.
For your child, this may look like the following:
Learning to recognize when they need help and requesting it from a teacher
Learning to introduce themselves to people
Asking for directions if they can’t find their class
Standing up for themselves or others when there’s a problem
Communicating about work during a team project
Learning public speaking skills for presentations
Clubs and activities that encourage communication growth
There are lots of other ways for kids and teens to step out of their comfort zone and learn new communication skills. Take a minute and think about what interests your kiddo. Is it art, music, sports? Being outdoors? Starting a business? One of these activities could be a perfect fit:
Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts: These organizations allow kids to make friends, learn life skills, help their communities, and improve their leadership abilities.
Group activities like band or team sports: In group activities, every child learns what role they play in order to help the team or group accomplish their goals, whether it’s a performance or a competition. Children may need to learn to speak up for themselves or help others in these settings.
Student council: Running for student council can take a bit of courage. There’s often a campaign or speech involved, which may be a new experience for your child. They may need to summarize the key points of why they’re running and what they want to accomplish–an important communication ability!
Starting a business, such as babysitting or lawn care: Running a small business can be a whole new world for kids and teens. It involves responsibility, time management, and communication with adults. Talking with adults in order to schedule work and discuss pay may be a little intimidating at first. However, learning to communicate with people of all ages is important.
Getting comfortable with new types of communication isn’t always easy. Let’s talk more about how you as a parent or caregiver can help your child.
How to find out how your child feels about school
When your child gets in the car or comes through the door after school, “How was your day?” is likely one of the first things you ask. But by the end of the day, many kids are tired and hungry, so you may get a one-word response: “Fine.” You probably want to hear more!
One easy way to get your child or teenager to open up is to change how you ask questions. Instead of “yes or no” questions, ask questions that are open-ended, or about a specific detail.
One easy way to get your child or teen to open up is to change how you ask questions.
For example, instead of asking, “Did you have a good day?”, try “What was your favorite class today?” or “Who did you eat lunch with?” or “What was a high [or low] part of the day?” These types of questions can spark a conversation, prompting your child to share more about school and how they’re feeling about it.
Asking about favorite classes or activities can also give you an idea of what your child is enjoying. Chances are, the activities they enjoy are the ones where they’re speaking up and connecting with other people. Try to learn how your child feels about their teachers, coaches, and any group projects, too. That information may help you understand if your child is struggling in any area.
How to improve communication skills for school
If you think your child may be having a hard time with conversation, self-advocacy, or just communication in general, know that these skills can take time to develop, especially if your child is on the younger side.
If your child is struggling with self-advocacy, create some opportunities to practice. You might give them a chance to tell you why they deserve a raise in their allowance. Or if you’re out to dinner and your child’s order is incorrect, they can be the one to talk with the server about it. Self-advocacy is a key part of confident communication and being able to express your needs.
If your child is struggling with communication, create some opportunities to practice at home.
If your child has a hard time communicating with peers, or is nervous about giving a speech or presenting a report, have them practice at home. You can role play by acting out what they could say in various situations. Your child can try presenting their report to family members.
It’s true that success at home may not easily transfer to other settings. It’s very different for kids to give a speech in front of peers rather than their parents. Just do your best to support your child in any way you can. And be alert to anything your child tells you about school that may signal they need some help.
When to seek outside support for your child
Middle school and high school can be a challenging time for kids. Learning to navigate new social situations and more complex schoolwork and schedules will take some practice. But if your child seems to be struggling and it’s causing them distress, know that help is available.
You may want to contact your child’s teacher first. Share your concerns and ask what they’ve observed.
If you notice behaviors that signal low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety, it’s best to speak with a licensed therapist or counselor. Many therapists and counselors work with children, teens, and young adults to address these types of issues. You can start by speaking with your child’s pediatrician, checking with your insurance company, or looking online for providers with strong recommendations. Your child’s school may also have a counselor on staff.
If your child has a hard time with social skills in many areas, they could have a social language delay. Social language is referred to as pragmatics. Speech therapy can help children and teenagers develop and strengthen their social language skills. Therapy may focus on:
Using appropriate communication when socializing, such as greeting others, smiling, and maintaining eye contact
Varying communication styles depending on the setting and partner
Following social rules such as staying on topic and not interrupting
Understanding verbal versus nonverbal cues and body language
Speaking or presenting in public with confidence
The best way to know if your child or teen could benefit from treatment for social language development is through an evaluation with a speech therapist. They can assess your child’s current strengths and weaknesses, determine if a delay is present, and make treatment recommendations.