How to Talk to Kids to Really Connect and Communicate

Published July 13, 2021
Mom Being Affectionate With Young Son

Taking with children can sometimes feel like all your words go in one ear and out the other. Not being able to connect and communicate with the young people in your life can leave you feeling frustrated, and leave them feeling discouraged as well. Learn how to talk to kids so that relationships and bonds can be strengthened and messages can prove useful and heard.

Effective Methods for How to Talk to Kids

When communicating with young people, the style and tactics you use may depend largely on their age and development level. Talking to kids is not a one-size-fits-all type of activity, and these effective tips and methods can make that heart-to-heart more enjoyable and meaningful for everyone involved.

How to Verbally Speak to Young Children

It is important to model effective communication techniques and strategies with young children. When talking to your kids, be sure to put the conversation at their speed, tune into where they are developmentally and keep things as positive as possible!

Use Their Name

Use kids' names when speaking to them. With your own children, it draws attention to your voice and signals them into what you are about to say. When communicating with children who are not your offspring, using personal names makes them feel connected to a community, fosters accountability, and increases positive behaviors. Using a child's name when engaging in conversation sets a welcoming and friendly tone.

Wait Until They Show You Some Signs

When speaking to young children, wait to talk with them until you have their full attention. Give them time to finish what they are doing and allow them to make eye contact with you before you begin conversing with them. If you don't do this, much of what you say will be lost on them.

Try to Work in Positive Words and Phrases

Staying positive in your speech is a crucial component of creating verbal connectivity with both young and older children. Replace negative words and phrases with positive ones. Examples are:

  • Instead of saying, "Don't run!" Say, "Please walk."
  • Replace "No more snacks!" with "Let's try to hold off until dinnertime."
  • Instead of saying, "Don't fight with your sister!" Try saying, "Let's see if we can work this out together.
Mother and daughter are looking at each other

Use Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact with young children is an important strategy in creating meaningful discussions. When you talk with young kids, hold your eye contact, even when they do not. Remember, you are the model for how they will learn to speak to others.

Perform a Tone Check

How is your conversational tone? Are you speaking loudly, quickly, or aggressively? These are not the tones that you want to adopt when talking to young children. Keep your tone calm and clear. Don't speak too rapidly; and keep the topics of conversation brief.

Give Kids Plenty of Choices During Discussions

In talking with kids, be sure to work choices into the discussion. No one loves living under a dictatorship, and this includes children. While you are technically the boss, and you make the rules and call the shots, kids like to feel like they have some choice in their world. You can work choices into conversation with kids, giving them some ownership over their life and fostering their independence and decision-making skills. Examples of offering choices might be:

  • We could go for a walk or a bike ride today.
  • Did you want to do playdough or paint?
  • I know you love board games. Which one sounds better, Candy Land or Shoots and Ladders?

How to Speak to and Engage With Older Children

Speaking to older children and teenagers requires a different game plan than that of chatting with little kids. Be respectful of this new stage of life and make budding adults feel as if you are talking to them, not at them.

Don't Talk Down to Them

Older children don't want to be talked down to. They are maturing rapidly and want to be treated more like an adult than a little kid. When speaking to your child:

  • Avoid the use of cutesy nicknames
  • Use open-ended questions
  • Use straight talk, not a sing-songy voice
  • Don't question all of their decisions, especially the little ones
Mother listening to daughter

Learn How to Listen

Older kids and teens have strong opinions about EVERYTHING, and these strong opinions can create a battle of wills for parents and their growing kids. When tensions run high, and emotions run even higher in conversations, remember to stop and listen. Effective listening skills are important to display in any relationship, including the one you have with your child. Model effective listening so that they learn to be better listeners to people in their own lives. Listening is as important a conversational skill as speaking is.

Learn How To Gauge Your Reactions

Some conversations with your older kids will make you want to jump right into reaction. Remember that kids tap directly into your emotions, so know what emotions you are putting on display. Becoming worked up over something they are revealing might make them shut down. Keep your feelings even-keeled during the conversation and process your thoughts before letting your own perspective rip.

To keep conversations productive and positive, know when to disengage from a teenager's attitude. Two yelling parties are not going to get anywhere good. Utilize deep breaths, refuse to take the bait, and remember who the adult here is.

Be a Voice of Reason and a Sounding Board

When having a conversation with a teen or older child, or even an adult child, know when they want your ideas and thoughts and when they need you to be a sounding board. Determining if you have to be the voice of reason or a shoulder to unload on can be tricky, but do your best to read the cues and be the conversation partner that your child needs at the moment.

Validate Feelings

Older kids and teens are notorious for having their emotions scattered all over the place. Aside from this, explaining their feelings can be a difficult task at hand in itself. Try to validate your older child's feelings when they are speaking to you. Consider using language like:

  • I can understand why you might be upset with (name of a friend).
  • That must have been really uncomfortable for you. I'm sorry you had to go through that.
  • I can see that this is really stressful.
  • This break-up certainly sounds like it has been difficult for you.

The more kids' feelings are validated, the more comfortable they will be opening up to adults in the future.

Choose a Good Time to Talk

Teenagers have moods that change in the blink of an eye. One moment everything is fine, but the next, they appear moody, sullen, and withdrawn. Mood swings can make it difficult for parents to know when to speak to older kids and teens. Put some careful thought and consideration into when to engage in meaningful conversations.

  • Converse at mealtime. Having meals together is a great space for adults and older children to speak on matters of the heart.
  • If you want to talk about something that your teen might normally walk away from, try talking to them on a lengthy car ride.
  • DON'T try to converse in front of their friends or right before a major life event like a major test or a sporting event.

Strong Communication Fosters Strong Relationships

When kids are young, develop strong and meaningful lines of communication with them. Model effective communication and listening skills so that they can emulate such skills and transfer them over into other relationships. Consider how you talk to your children and reassess your strategies as they grow and develop. Like the children themselves, communication styles will grow and change along with them. The single most important thing to remember when talking with kids is to simply never stop. Always keep lines of communication open and focus on trust and respect when talking with kids, both young and older.

How to Talk to Kids to Really Connect and Communicate