Ages & Stages of Communication

Talk to Kids

Here are some helpful tips on how to start a conversation and help your child open up to you about his or her feelings. These tips are based on developmental levels and capabilities.

Infants and Toddlers

Talk frequently with your infant. Even though he or she can’t talk back, he or she can communicate in other ways. Give him or her the opportunity to respond through eye contact and coos.

Start a conversation with your toddler by telling a story together using a picture book.

Give your toddler words for expressing his or her feelings. Examples: “You feel sad that the plans have changed?” Or if your child has worked hard on a painting, you could say, “Wow, you really worked hard on this. Look at the apples in the tree you drew. You must feel really proud of your hard work!”

You can give words to your toddler’s feelings while still setting limits on his or her behavior. For example, “I know you get excited to see your friend, Tommy, but it hurts when you hug him so tight. He might prefer a gentler hug.”

Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

Be curious about your preschooler’s day. When he or she talks about finger paint, ask how it felt. What’s it like to sit in a circle? What new thing did he or she learn today?

Ask your kindergartener to tell you about a different child in his or her class each day.

Give your 3- to 5-year-old words to express how he or she feels and teach him or her how to communicate his or her feelings. For example, when your child says, “You’re mean,” you can respond, “You’re feeling angry because I said you couldn’t have more dessert tonight.”

Introduce “I” messages to your 3- to 5-year-old: “I feel angry (or another feeling) when________, I want ________ and I am willing to __________.”

Elementary-School-Age Children

Imagine with your school-age child inventions that would solve problems like glasses that tip over and keys that

get lost.

Start a dinner-time tradition for each family member to share the funniest moment of their day. Or share the kindest thing each of you saw or did during the day. Be sure to participate in the sharing.

Become aware of the best time of day for your elementary-school-age child to open up. Is it in the morning, after school or before bed?

Middle Schoolers

Keep lines of communication open with tweens. Encourage your child to explain why he or she is feeling a certain way, and, if needed, talk about the best way to handle the situation.

Ask about the hottest new techno-gadget. Cultivate interest in your tween’s interests.

If you are the chauffeur for your tween’s extracurricular activities, take advantage of the time in the car to talk. Kids can really open up during a short drive.