Communication Skills in Children: Communicating, Listening, and Dealing With Conflict

Children need to learn to converse and communicate in order to be able to build relationships and make sure that their needs are met. These skills are not developed in a vacuum; rather, it’s important to talk with young children and help them to learn how to speak with others effectively and respectfully.

Conversation Skills: What They Are And Why They Are Important

Having effective communication skills is an important part of development for children. When they can talk easily with others, they can share their thoughts, make friends, ask for help when they need it, and build strong bonds with people around them. Having good conversation skills means being able to communicate effectively by talking and listening. This includes things like:

  • Initiating conversations
  • Getting someone’s attention politely
  • Making eye contact
  • Having things to talk about
  • Knowing when to speak and when to listen
  • Using respect when talking to others
  • Knowing when to wrap up a conversation

To help your child become a good conversationalist, you’ll need to teach them vocabulary and basic sentence structure. It is also important to learn how to take turns speaking and understand the communication norms within your family, like how to talk to each other.

Modeling Conversation Skills for Children

Your child learns a great deal about conversing through their interaction with you, both speaking and listening. Engaging in conversation whenever possible is an effective way to aid your child’s development of conversational skills.

Your child also learns from observing how you converse with others. Thus, you can assist their development of strong conversation skills by engaging with your partner, other adults, and children in a manner that mirrors how you’d like your child to communicate with others.

  • Be friendly by smiling, making eye contact, and using warm greetings like “Good morning” with family, “Welcome” to visitors, and “How are you?” with community members.
  • Communicate positively with your partner, and resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.
  • Show interest and attention through body language and tone of voice during conversations.
  • Prioritize face-to-face interactions over phone use; if you are on your phone and someone wants to talk, either put it down or inform them that you will be with them shortly to give them your full attention.

Practice, Prompts, and Guidance for Children’s Conversation Skills

Developing the skills to communicate effectively and listen attentively to others is a gradual process that requires time and practice. While some children grasp these skills swiftly, others may benefit from your guidance and support along the way.


  • Engage in role-play conversations with your child, taking turns asking questions and listening to each other’s answers.
  • Rehearse potential dialogue for social situations, such as saying, “Hello, Sara. Would you like to play with me?”
  • Brainstorm conversation-starters for meeting new people, like introducing yourself and asking about their interests, such as, “Hi, I’m Jessica. I have a dog and love animals. Do you have any pets?”


  • Prompt your child to express gratitude, like, “Please thank Daddy for taking you to the movies.”
  • Offer clear and gentle reminders when necessary, like, “Michael, please remember to make eye contact when you’re talking to someone.”
  • Suggest ways for your child to initiate conversations about others’ interests, such as, “Uncle Ryan got a new job. Maybe you could ask him how he liked his first day.”


  • Establish family rules regarding respectful communication and discuss them with your child.
  • Provide guidance, like instructing your child to say “Excuse me” when interrupting a conversation.
  • Offer praise for effective communication to reinforce positive behavior, such as, “You waited patiently for your turn to speak. Well done!” or “You used your ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ really nicely just now.”
  • Implement consequences if your child talks back or displays rudeness.

Children absorb information most effectively through play, making pretend play an enjoyable method for honing conversation skills. For instance, you might suggest, “Let’s imagine you’re the parent on the phone and I’m the child. What would I do if I wanted to talk to you?” Alternatively, you and your child can engage in imaginative conversations using toys or puppets.

Managing Interrupting

Interruption often occurs when children struggle to control their impulse to speak. However, unless what they want to say is urgent, it is essential to teach your child the value of patience. Allowing others to finish their thoughts or actions is a crucial aspect of positive and respectful communication, fostering better relationships with others.

The best approach to managing interruptions will vary based on your child’s age and developmental stage. For instance, younger children and those with additional needs may find it challenging to grasp the concept of saying “Excuse me” and waiting for a response. Preschoolers may only be capable of handling a brief “Just a minute” before receiving your full attention, while school-age children should be able to wait longer.

These practical strategies for handling interruptions can benefit most children:

  • Clearly communicate situations where immediate interruption is acceptable, such as in cases of danger or urgency.
  • Teach your child to gently place their hand on your arm if they need to speak while you are engaged in conversation. Respond by placing your hand over theirs to indicate understanding.

As your child matures and demonstrates the ability to wait, consider these approaches for managing interruptions:

  • Reinforce your family’s rule regarding interruptions, then resume your conversation until your child politely says “Excuse me” or gently places their hand on your arm.
  • When your child says “Excuse me,” promptly acknowledge them, demonstrating that respectful behavior leads to attention.
  • Offer praise when your child politely interrupts and waits for your attention, encouraging them to continue this courteous communication. For instance, you might say, “You patiently waited until I finished my call before asking for help with your doll. Good job!”
  • If you are engaged in a task or conversation that cannot be interrupted, try diverting your child’s attention with a special toy or engaging activity or inform them of the duration of your unavailability.

Dealing With Talking Back

When your child talks back in response to setting limits, giving instructions, or enforcing consequences, they might use a disrespectful tone, argue, or attempt to negotiate when it is inappropriate. In such situations, the first step should be to respond calmly and reaffirm your family’s rules regarding respectful communication and mutual respect. If the behavior persists, follow through with a consequence for the rudeness. This might involve practicing alternative ways to communicate or losing privileges, such as screen time.

Things That Affect Children’s Conversation Skills

Several factors can influence the development of children’s conversation skills:

  • Self-Regulation This entails managing one’s behavior and reactions to the surrounding environment, which is crucial for learning to converse and listen attentively. Children gradually develop self-regulation as they mature.
  • Temperament: A child’s temperament plays a significant role; for instance, highly sociable children may struggle with listening, as they desire to be involved in every conversation, whereas shy or reserved children may find it easier to listen but more challenging to respond actively.
  • Autism and Other Additional Needs: Children with conditions like autism may possess varied communication skills but might require additional support to learn and practice these skills. Similarly, children with hearing impairments may need specialized assistance to facilitate their communication development.

Further Reading