An online speech-language pathologist shares the best tips to help teens experiencing communication struggles.
Do you have a teenager who has difficulties telling personal stories? Or provides bits and pieces of information from which you need to infer and interpret the situation being described? It may be more than ‘teen angst.’ Your teenager could be experiencing a bigger problem. The information in this article provides a range of tips and suggestions to help you guide your teenager to learn to express disorganized thoughts in a more cohesive and clear manner.
Signs of disorganized thoughts
Sometimes kids have trouble telling stories because they have thoughts trouble organizing their thoughts. Disorganized speech could lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and loss of confidence over time within social and academic environments. However, on the surface disorganized thoughts may manifest through certain signs which may include (but are not limited to):
- mild stammers
- rapid speech rate
- providing information that is not relevant to a question
- not answering the question
- changing topics without notice
- changing to a topic that is not connected to the initial topic
- mind “going blank”
- long pauses
Your child may exhibit some or all of these behaviors. A great conversation flow involves
staying focused on the conversation partner, listening, and not overthinking. When thoughts are disorganized, the mind of your teen may not be focused enough on the conversation, and ends up wandering to topics and concerns that are not directly related to what is being discussed.
For example, if your child has an exam coming up, baseball practice, and a situation with a friend, these topics can become fused together in the mind and the child may have trouble separating them from each other. They can have difficulty discussing the situations one at a time with all the necessary details and sequence.
If your teen needs additional help with their communication, book a free consultation with one of our online speech-language pathologists today to discuss online communication therapy for teens.
Tips and strategies to help with disorganized thoughts
The following simple tips and strategies are those I often use with teenagers in online communication therapy sessions. These recommendations provide a way for parents to help their child get all their thoughts, views, beliefs, feelings, etc. out in a clear and cohesive manner. Speaking in an organized manner can reduce frustrations and misunderstandings, and improve the overall flow of the interaction. Later in life, this is important for your growing adult to do well in social situations, but also in job interviews, and even their core relationships.
Tips and suggestions to help your pre-teen or teen organize their thoughts:
Story Tips for Your Teen:
1. Remind them that any story has a beginning, middle, and end. Just like when writing an essay, a personal story also needs to have an introductory statement, several details, and a conclusion that summarises what has been said. If your child wants to tell you a story about something that has happened at school, baseball practice, work, with friends, etc., their first statement or sentence needs to let you know the topic.
Sometimes my students start telling me details of a situation and I am left wondering what the story is actually about. Here’s a few examples of topic sentences that could apply to a typical situation a teenager experiences:
- “In band class today another student was being disruptive, noisy, and interrupting the teacher”. Instead of…”The student is annoying (other names)”.
- “The math teacher was rushing me to answer the question and I needed more time to think”. Instead of…”I don’t like this teacher”.
- “College level classes are different from high school level classes because they require more responsibility from the student”. Instead of…”Professors don’t care.
2. The best stories answer main questions (what, where, when, why, who, how). If the child’s story answers all these questions, you can have a fair understanding of the situation. They may have trouble mentally keeping track of whether they have shared enough information to answer all of these questions, but parents can guide them through reminders and ask these questions consistently. Over time, sharing information to answer these questions will become easier and almost second nature.
Listening Tips for You:
1. Listening is an integral part of any conversation. Active listening includes eye contact, body language, and key statements that indicate to the speaker that you are listening and hearing them. Here are several suggestions to be an active listener with your teen:
- Slightly lean in towards them as they are speaking
- Reduce your own distractibility
- Summarize or paraphrase what your teen is saying periodically – this way they feel heard, it validates them, they want to continue, and it organizes their thoughts for them (Ex. “So you’re saying XYZ happened?”)
- Ask specific questions when you need them to clarify something (Ex. “What do you mean when you say…”, “Is this what you mean?”)
2. Reduce time pressure constraints. Although your teen likely talks at a record pace, sometimes they may feel they need to rush to say everything they want to say, and get their point across before someone else starts talking.. Your teen may experience a lengthy pause by not saying anything, or speed up speaking to say as much as they can. You can provide them phrases to use while they are taking a long pause to think, so that they don’t feel rushed (Ex. “I am thinking”, “I need more time”, “just a moment,” “I need help”).
I have had students that spoke really fast while giving presentations because they did not prepare enough ahead of time. They ended up cramming as much information as they could and wanted to get the presentation over with. Their narrative resulted in disorganization and redundancy. Identifying situations that can reduce the pressure can lead to the prevention of disruptions in communication.
3. Simplify the Topics. Sometimes people have multiple topics swimming their mind and this can become overwhelming and requires some kind of organization to express all of it in a cohesive manner. You can help your teen using the following strategies:
- Identify the topics you are hearing, and cover each one at a time. Let your teen know that there seems to be more than one topic and each one needs to be addressed separately.
- Write it down. Use a visual graph such as a piece of paper or white board if available, to separate each topic. You can even number all the thoughts and ideas pertaining to each topic. Just write down what they say and discuss it afterward, one by one.
4. Keep the conversation on 1 topic at a time. Sometimes kids change topics quickly without finishing talking about the first topic, and providing no notice. This becomes difficult to keep track of and understand what they are talking about. You can always:
- Redirect them to the initial topic so they can complete it.
- Remind them that, if they want to change topics, they need to provide an introductory statement to let you know they want to talk about something else. For example, “turn signal,” or “something else,” etc.
5. Help them identify their emotions. Besides having multiple situations jumbled up in a person’s mind, adding emotion to the mix makes it even more challenging for teens to organize and explain themselves in a calm and cohesive manner. A simple way to get past the emotion and get to the actual situation is by asking two-choice questions. For example, asking “Do you feel annoyed about it or disappointed?” instead of “What’s wrong?” or “Why are you upset?” This reduces the pressure on the teen to figure things out and to organize all their thoughts quickly.
In my sessions, I often see a sense of relief and validation on my student’s faces when I provide the word for them that describes their state. This way they dont need to work too hard to figure out how to explain themselves.
Summary and getting help from online communication therapy
As teenagers are developing their language and social skills over time, all the information they are learning can become disorganized in their minds. Here is a summary of the strategies discussed in this article to help your teen along their developmental process.
- Every story has beginning, middle and end
- Stories answer (what, where, when, why, who, how) questions
- Active listening
- Reduce time pressure constraints
- Separate each topic
- Use two-choice questions
- One topic at a time
At Better Speech, we know that you deserve ideas and therapy that works for you and your child. We have experts that match your teen’s needs and assign the right therapist; not just the therapist that happens to be in your area. ,Schedule a free consultation for online communication therapy for teens with one of our dedicated speech-language pathologists today!
Written by Svetlana Atenzon