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Extension Notes: Talking to your kids

By: Whitney Morrow
Carter County Extension Agent

Tips for parents, grandparents and educators to communicate with youth 

Source: David Weisenhorn, Family and Consumer Sciences extension specialist  

Communicating effectively with youth is crucial for building strong relationships and ensuring their emotional well-being. It’s essential to tailor your approach based on their age and developmental stage.  

Preschoolers (Ages 3-5): 

  • Engage in play: Preschoolers learn through play. Join them in their imaginative games, ask questions related to their play and let their stories and ideas naturally flow. 
  • Use simple language: Use simple and age-appropriate language. Use concrete examples and visual aids to help them understand concepts. 
  • Ask open-ended questions: Instead of asking, “Did you have a good day?” try, “What was your favorite part of today?” This encourages them to share more details. 

Elementary-Aged Children (Ages 6-11): 

  • Show interest: Actively listen and show genuine interest in their activities, school experiences and hobbies. This builds trust and encourages them to open up. 
  • Share your day: Start the conversation by sharing your day, and they’ll be more likely to reciprocate. For instance, “today at work, I had a challenging problem to solve. How about you? Anything interesting happen at school?” 
  • Scalable questions: Use the scale approach. Say, “on a scale of 1-10, how was your day?” If they say “three,” follow up with, “what would make it a four tomorrow?” This helps them articulate their feelings and expectations. 

Middle Schoolers (Ages 12-14): 

  • Respect independence: Middle schoolers are exploring their independence. Respect their need for privacy while offering a listening ear when they choose to talk. 
  • Ask thought-provoking questions: Encourage critical thinking with questions such as, “what’s the most exciting thing you learned today?” Or “if you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?” 
  • Be patient: Understand that they might be going through emotional ups and downs. Offer support without pushing too hard. 

High Schoolers (Ages 15-18): 

  • Respect their opinions: High schoolers are forming their own opinions and values. Encourage open discussions without judgment, even if you disagree. 
  • Ask about future plans: Show interest in their future plans and dreams. Questions like, “what are your goals for this year?” can spark meaningful conversations. 
  • Be a role model: Demonstrate healthy communication by calmly resolving conflicts and showing empathy. 

Handling One-Word Answers: 

  • Don’t push too hard: If you receive one-word answers like “fine,” don’t push for more immediately. Give them space, and they may open up later. 
  • Use open-ended follow-ups: Follow up with open-ended questions like, “Tell me more about why it was ‘fine’?” or “What made it a ‘three’?” 

 Effective communication with children of all ages, from preschoolers to high schoolers, involves adapting your approach to their developmental stage. By engaging in their world, asking thoughtful questions and being patient and empathetic, parents and grandparents can nurture strong relationships and encourage meaningful conversations.  

For more information about effective communication with youth, contact the Carter County Cooperative Extension Service.

 The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity. 


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