Tips for supporting primary-aged children’s communication skills

Tips for supporting communication skills in children aged five to 11 years. 

The way we talk to our children can have a big impact on the development of their speech, language and communication skills.  

Here are some tips that you can use to support your child: 

Model new words and sentences for your child. Modelling means saying the words and sentences that your child could say in that situation next time. When your child learns a new word, you can help by modelling how they can use that word in a sentence.  

For example, “Miserable means feeling really sad about something. I felt miserable when I lost my favourite ear-rings.” See our factsheet on helping your primary-aged child learn new words for more ideas. 

Model (don’t correct) when your child makes mistakes. You can also use modelling when your child makes a mistake with something they say. Instead of correcting them, repeat back what they’ve said the right way. For example, if your child says “I goed to the farm”, you can say, “Yes, you went to the farm.” 

Build on what your child says. Extend your child’s thinking and their sentences by adding to what they say. For example, if they say, “We planted a tomato plant”, you could say, “yes, we planted the tomato plant in the vegetable patch”. 

Match your talking to your child’s level. This might mean using shorter, more simple sentences than you would usually. This helps your child understand and think about the words you have said.  

Break instructions into chunks. Give short, simple instructions. Give them in the order you want your child to follow them. For example: “Put away your coat. Take your shoes off. Get yourself a drink.” Take a look at our factsheet on supporting primary-aged children’s understanding of words and sentences for more ideas.  

Speak slowly and pause often. This gives your child time to think about what you have said and plan what they want to say.  

Use visuals. Use gestures/actions, pointing, showing pictures and real objects at the same time as talking to support your child’s understanding. See our factsheet on visual supports for more ideas.  

Balance comments and questions. Making comments about what your child is doing or what they are interested in is a great way to get some conversation going. You can simply watch them playing and make a comment like, ‘That’s a lovely drawing’ or ‘Wow, you’ve set up a really long train track!’. Pause after each comment to give your child a chance to say something.  

Asking too many questions can feel like a ‘test’ and put your child off talking, so try to use more comments than questions. When you do ask questions, think about the types of questions you ask:  

  • Open questions: these give your child the opportunity to tell you more about what they are thinking. They might be harder for some children to answer. For example, ‘What did you do today?’ ‘Tell me about…’ 
  • Closed questions: these usually start with words like who, where, when or what. They might be easier for some children to answer. For example, ‘Who ate the last biscuit?’ ‘Where is your cup?’. 
  • Choice questions: these give your child a choice between two options. They help your child to answer because they can copy one of the things you said. For example, ‘Shall we go to the park or play in the garden?’ ‘Would you like a cheese sandwich or beans on toast?’ 
  • You can also ask questions that start with ‘I wonder’. These sound less like a question but still give your child a chance to respond. For example, ‘I wonder what you’re going to draw next?’, ‘I wonder why the little girl ran away from the wolf?’ 

Get your child’s attention before asking them to do something or telling them important information. You might need to say their name or touch their arm to let them know that it’s time to listen. 

Talk to your child’s school. Try asking your child’s teacher for a list of words they are learning at school. Model these words for your child, repeat them often and give them opportunities to practise them. See our factsheet on helping your primary-aged child to learn new words for more ideas.