Language for School Success: Talking with Your Child

Talking and listening play major roles in children's school success. It's through hearing parents and family members talk and through responding to that talk that young children begin to pick up the language skills they will need if they are to do well. For example, children who don't hear a lot of talk and who aren't encouraged to talk themselves often have problems learning to read, which can lead to other school problems. In addition, children who haven't learned to listen carefully often have trouble following directions and paying attention in class.

Talk anywhere and everywhere

Think of talking with your child as being like a tennis game with words — instead of a ball — bouncing back and forth. Find time to talk any place.

  • As you walk with your child or ride with her in a car or on a bus, talk with her about what she's doing at school. Ask her to tell you about a school assembly or a field trip. Point out and talk about things that you see as you walk — funny signs, new cars, interesting people.
  • As you shop in a store, talk with your child about what you are doing as you go through the store. Discuss prices, differences in brands, and how to pick out good vegetables and fruit. Give your child directions about where to find certain items, then have her go get them.
  • As you fix dinner, ask your child to help you follow the steps in a recipe. Talk with her about what can happen if you miss a step or leave out an ingredient.
  • As you fix a sink or repair a broken table, ask your child to hand you the tools that you name. Talk with her about each step you take to complete the repair. Tell her what you're doing and why you're doing it. Ask her for suggestions about how you should do something.
  • As you watch TV together, talk with your child about the programs. If you're watching one of her favorite programs, encourage her to tell you about the background of the characters, which ones she likes and dislikes and who the actors are. Compare the program to a program that you liked when you were her age.
  • As you read a book with your child, pause occasionally to talk to her about what's happening in the book. Help her to relate the events in the book to events in her life: "Look at that tall building! Didn't we see that when we were in Chicago?" Ask her to tell in her own words what the book was about. Ask her about new words in a book and help her to figure out what they mean.

Be a good listener

It's also important for you to show your child that you're interested in what she has to say. Demonstrate for her how to be a good listener:

  • When your child talks to you, stop what you're doing and pay attention. Look at her and ask questions to let her know that you've heard what she said: "So when are you going to help your granddad work on his car?"
  • Show that you're listening. When your child tells you about something, occasionally repeat what she says to let her know that you've been listening closely: "The school bus broke down twice!"
  • Listen to your child's questions patiently and answer them just as patiently. If you don't know the answer to a question, have her join you as you look for the answer in a book. She will then see how important books are as sources of information.


Helping Your Child Succeed in School. U.S. Department of Education. First published in June 1993. Revised 2002 and 2005.


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Reading a wonderful book by Gary Smalley: DNA of Relationships. The ideas can be applied to children as well He talks about effective communication-he stresses the importance of getting beyond the words.

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