My child doesn’t understand me? Here are three tips.


Does your child find it difficult to understand simple instructions? Are you sometimes unsure if they understand everything around them?

In this article, I want to give you some tips to help you understand where comprehension difficulties come from and how to support your child in the understanding of both simple and complex concepts.

As already mentioned here, we can divide communication into two sub-categories: receptive language (understanding) and expressive language (use).

A person must have both of these skills in order to be able to communicate with others.

Although talking and having a conversation may seem simple to us (after all, where’s the difficulty in asking someone “Could you pass me the water?”), in reality it includes many skills that we don’t pay attention to but which are the foundations of conversation.


Let’s see what happens when two people talk to each other:

  1. The sender sends the message [“Could you pass me the water?”]
  2. Sound travels and – if there are no barriers that prevent it from spreading, such as background noise or a closed door – it reaches the recipient’s ears (hearing ability).
  3. The receiver must pay attention to the message and transform the sound into words (auditory processing). Furthermore, they must be able to know the meaning of the words they just heard (linguistic ability), and keep that information in their memory for the time necessary to process an answer.
  4. The receiver elaborates a suitable answer to the question and sends the message, while performing the action [“Here you are”].

Hearing ability, attention, auditory processing, language skills, and memory are key elements in understanding the message. If one or more of these elements is missing, the recipient will have a hard time understanding the message.

Receptive language difficulties considerably affect expressive language; in order for a person to be able to express a certain concept, it is necessary that they have understood and learned it.

Here are some strategies to allow your child to fully understand the message you are sending them.


Get Face to Face and Minimize Distractions:

Imagine sitting in the car in the back seat, with music on, and having a conversation with the driver (who – of course – can’t turn around to talk to you) – what are the odds that you’d understand 100% of what the driver is saying?

The inability to look the conversation partner in the face, the loud music, the driver’s position that does not allow the sound to travel backwards are all elements that make understanding more difficult.

When talking to your child:

1) Try to reduce all these distracting elements, such as music, TV, background noise.

2) Gain their attention before giving an instruction, perhaps calling them by name [for example, instead of saying “Put your shoes on, Mark”, try saying “Mark, put your shoes on”].

3) Get face to face with them, in order for them to be able to see your facial expressions and to read your lips.


Keep your instructions short and simple, and ask them to repeat them before completing them.

Try to keep your instructions at an appropriate length for the age of your child. Short messages, with a few keywords, manage to get to their destination better than long messages.

For example, if when talking to an adult, the following message would surely be understood: “Please, you could put the red shoes you use for work on the second shelf of the wardrobe at the entrance,” it would be a bit too complicated for a 5-year-old child.

Similarly, if this message would surely be understood by a 5-year-old child: “Put the red shoes in the wardrobe,” it would still be complex for a 2-year-old child, who is only able to understand the phrase “Shoes away”, if mum points first to the shoes and then the wardrobe.

For this reason, if your child struggles to understand long and complex sentences, simplify them by using only a few keywords.

Asking to repeat the instruction before completing it is a way to see if our child has really understood.



Use visual support.

Visual support is also embedded in part of our adult reality. Just think of the traffic light, the calendar, the icons of a website, or the underground sign. These symbols are recognisable and full of meaning (we know that a door must remain closed when there is a “fire exit” symbol on it).

Visual support can help your child understand even a rather complicated and abstract message.

For example, a “Now/Next” board where you draw what the child is doing now and what they are supposed to do next, is a fundamental aid to support certain activities (for example, if your child does not like to take a bath but loves the bedtime story, using the “Now/Next” board to let them know that after the bath there will be the story could make them more likely to take a bath).

That is all for today!

Let me know if these tips were helpful to you and contact me here for more information.