How to talk to kids can feel tricky - here are 7 expert tips for better communication (and #5 could be a game changer)

Kick off the conversation and keep it going with our 7 tips for talking to kids, from making a connection to approaching difficult subjects

Dad in conversation with son
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Strange as it may sound, we can all use a little help starting conversations, talking about difficult topics and actively listening and responding to our children. We've 'had a conversation' with a child expert, who has years of experience talking to kids, to find out where we can all do better.

Many of us flounder a little when talking to our kids in an effort to 'connect', firing questions at them about their day or struggling to get through to a hormonal teen. If you want to find out about your kid's day? Ask them SOCK questions, or find the perfect teen conversation starter. We've also covered child psychologist Dr Becky shares the one question to ask your teen to improve your relationship. But, no matter how much you research, it's not just about what you say but how you say it. The way you communicate with your child, through touch and tone, can boost their emotional development and help them feel safe and secure.

What our writer learned

I'm definitely guilty of drifting off during conversations with my son on the walk back from school. I'm going to pay more attention, give active listening and open-ended questions a go, and see where the conversation takes us.

"As they grow older, kids may become more distant, especially as they turn into teenagers. However, they still need a safe and consistent presence," says Lauren Seager-Smith, advocate for children's rights, CEO of The For Baby's Sake Trust and former CEO of Kidscape.

We'll guide you through the art of having a great conversation with your child with expert tips on communicating verbally and nonverbally. Plus, we recommend the best podcasts and books for building communication skills.

How to talk to children

There are different techniques, from physically getting on their level to asking open-ended questions, that can help you have a meaningful conversation with your child or teen. Here are some tips and examples that can help kick it off, and keep it going:

  1. Find a point of connection
  2. Ask S.O.C.K questions (specific, open-ended, creative, kid-friendly)
  3. Use active listening
  4. Let them take the lead
  5. Create space for regular conversations
  6. Get on their level physically
  7. Don't be afraid of difficult conversations

Although sometimes it's worth reading the room before you start. Like adults, children sometimes don't want to talk much. And teenagers can be even less talkative. But if you feel like your child is ready for a conversation, whether it's just asking about their day or approaching a difficult subject, read on for more information.

7 expert tips for better communication

1. Find a point of connection

If you're not sure where to start, it's useful to find a connection with the child you're speaking to, whether that's their favourite sport, TV show or pop star. You don't need to be an expert on the subject—you just have to be enthusiastic and curious. So ask them what it is about that footballer or gaming vlogger that they like so much, and let them educate you.

How to talk to Children and Build Positive Relationships - YouTube How to talk to Children and Build Positive Relationships - YouTube
Watch On

If you have some knowledge on the subject, even better. But dont try to impress them with your expertise - kids are too sophisticated for that and they'll quickly get bored of listening to you.

2. Ask S.O.C.K questions (specific, open-ended, creative, kid-friendly)

S.O.C.K. questions are a great way to start a conversation with your kid or keep it moving forward. The aim is to avoid asking your child 'yes or no' questions, which can shut down a convo. Instead, be creative and come up with open-ended questions that can take your conversation to new places.

We've got a great article all about S.O.C.K. questions with examples you can try, but here's a summary of what they look like when asking your kid about their day.

  • Specific - What was something challenging you faced? | Can you tell me about how you felt when....? | Is there someone new you met or talked to? How do you feel when you’re with [friend’s name]? | What was the coolest thing you saw or did?
  • Open-ended - What was the most surprising part of your day? | What would you change about today if you could?
  • Creative - What’s one new thing you learned today?
  • Kid-friendly - Who did you spend the most time with today? | What’s something special about one of your friends? | Did anything make you curious or wonder why? | Was there something you didn’t understand but want to?

3. Use active listening

Active listening describes being present and focused on what the child is saying, paying full attention to them with eye contact and other nonverbal cues and summarising and repeating back to them what they say.

By asking open-ended questions, such as "Where would you like to begin?" or "How did that make you feel?" and repeating their feelings back to them, "What I'm hearing is that you're feeling frustrated about the argument you had with your friend. Is that right?" you're letting them know that you understand them and you respect their feelings are valid. This can help them open up more because they see you as a calm, non-judgmental person who they can turn to in times of crisis.

"It's important to manage your emotions and be mindful of your child's experiences," says Lauren Seagar-Smith. "For instance, if your child confides in you about being bullied, it's crucial to remain calm, ask how you can help, and work together on a plan to ensure their safety. This approach fosters an open and supportive environment for your child to feel comfortable discussing challenging issues."

Even if your conversation is about something silly or fun, active listening pays dividends because you're showing your child that their interests, hobbies and passions are worthy, and so are they. "Building trust with your child starts with active listening and prioritising their curiosity and feelings over your own perspectives," says Lauren.

4. Let them take the lead

Don't make the mistake of thinking your conversation has to be both ways. In fact, you really want the child to be doing most of the talking, as that is what helps them build emotional intelligence and social skills. Let your child take the lead, especially if they're particularly enthusiastic. All you have to do is pay attention and ask good follow-up questions that are open-ended to keep the dialogue going.

Even if your child or teen seems recent or reluctant to speak, or they're feeling so emotional it's hard for them to get their words out, let them set the pace. Allow pauses and silences to help you both reflect on what's being said and don't be tempted to speak for them. If they're not ready to talk, simply let them know you're there whenever they need you and leave it at that.

How To Talk To Toddlers | Child Mind Institute - YouTube How To Talk To Toddlers | Child Mind Institute - YouTube
Watch On

"For teenagers, their friends often become their main focus and influence, which is a natural part of their development," says Lauren. Our teen expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith wrote an article on this recently that's worth a read: Why won't my teen leave their room or socialise with the family?

"But in my experience, having an open relationship with your child encourages them to keep coming back. You may also find that they become more aware of their friends' lives and problems and seek your advice, and you'll have a new role in helping them support other teenagers around them."

5. Create space for regular conversations

A busy family routine of school, work, meals, homework and activities can sometimes mean you barely get five minutes to chat. If that sounds familiar, it may be worth setting up regular activities that offer a space for conversation. How you do this can depend on your child's age and what they enjoy doing with you.

"When my children were young, we would end each day by sharing our 'highs', 'lows' and 'buffalos' (anything random!)," laughs Lauren. This helped create a routine of checking in with each other and sharing our joys and sorrows. As my children have grown older, I've realised that I need to let them take the lead – even though it's difficult at times. Teenagers still need you, perhaps even more than before. They want to know that you are 'there' but on their own schedule."

Lauren advocates setting aside time for family activities on a regular basis to keep communication open and bonds strong. "Despite a teenager's desire to retreat into their phones and bedrooms, it's important to still prioritise family time and regularly schedule opportunities to spend quality time together," says Lauren. My children still enjoy family outings and holidays, going to the cinema, bowling, and occasionally joining me for a dog walk. All of these activities help maintain our bond."

6. Get on their level physically

For smaller children it's a great idea to kneel or sit, so that you're at eye level with the child. This makes the interaction feel more personal and less intimidating to them. You're letting them know nonverbally that you're receptive and open to chatting on an equal basis.

You can do something similar with teenagers too. Maintain an open, easy posture (no crossing arms or legs), lean toward them and get to their level by sitting or kneeling.

"Almost every teen I have worked with complains that their parents 'don't listen' - even when they are!" says therapist Renée Zavislak. "We need to make sure we give our teens' (sometimes endless rants) our full attention. That means not listening while scrolling or working, making eye contact, and reflecting on what you hear. Where teens often complain that parents don't listen, parents often complain that their teens don't talk to them. If you want them to tell you, make sure you act like you want to hear it!"

How To Respond To A Child's Nonverbal Signals - YouTube How To Respond To A Child's Nonverbal Signals - YouTube
Watch On

7. Don't be afraid of difficult conversations

While we all like to think that we can be there fully for our ids when they come to us with a difficult conversation or question, the truth is that it can be scary. And often, they come when we least expect them, so we feel woefully underprepared.

"As a parent, you may find that children often choose to have important conversations at the end of the day or unexpectedly," says Lauren. "it may bring up various concerns and worries for you, such as determining if the issue they are raising is happening to them or to someone else, how to ensure their safety, and knowing the best way to respond."

Lauren has these tips for any parent trying to navigate ther way through a difficult conversation with their child:

  • It's an honour that they trust you enough to have these discussions, so express your gratitude that they trust you enough to discuss this with you.
  • Gently inquire about what prompted their question and what they need help understanding. This is especially important if they bring up something that may not seem age-appropriate.
  • Follow their lead and address what they've heard and need help to understand.
  • Be prepared for them to quickly move on – and don't push the conversation if they are ready to end it.
  • Let them know that your door is always open, acknowledge that you appreciate them sharing this with you, and reassure them that you are always available to help answer a question or find a solution together.
  • If you feel overwhelmed or don't know the answer, explain that you need some time to think about it. For most issues they raise, there are organisations that can offer valuable support, and it can also be helpful to talk to a trusted family member or friend. Depending on their age, you can also guide them to useful resources or explain that you will work together to find a solution.

Best podcasts and and books for communication skills

The following podcasts and books are great resources for opening up communications and strengthening the bond bnetween you and your child.

Featured experts

Lauren Seager- Smith
Lauren Seager- Smith

Lauren Seager-Smith became Chief Executive of The For Baby’s Sake Trust in May 2023, bringing expertise and experience in leading charities through growth and development, along with a track record as a leading advocate for children’s rights and trauma-informed, whole-family approaches. Lauren was previously CEO of Kidscape, the charity that provides help with bullying, where she led the charity to develop its strategy and governance, expand its services and grow its income. Before then, she was National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance. Lauren’s record of representing the sensitive and complex needs of children and families to a public audience includes extensive media experience, including press, television, and radio. Lauren holds several high-profile Board positions including Trustee of Children England and membership of the Action for Children England Committee.

Renée Zavislak
Renée Zavislak

Renée is an integrative therapist, which means that she draws from several different psychotherapy orientations. Her work is informed by psychodynamic, behaviouristic, humanistic, and systemic approaches. She formulates her approach to fit specific client needs.

If you struggle to connect with your teenager, here are 25 brilliant ways to open up a conversation with them, with plenty of advice from our experts. Plus, here are the five most important things you should talk to your teen about before they start dating, and what to do if your teenager is drawn to taking risks.


Joanne Lewsley is mum to a tween, and freelance copywriter and editor who creates parenting, health and lifestyle content for evidence-based websites, including BabyCentre, Live Science, Medical News Today and more.