Want to raise a thoughtful conversationalist? Is the development of good interpersonal skills on your parenting bucket list? I’m pleased to welcome Lauren of Things I Teach My Children as she shares her techniques for fostering solid conversation skills in her children. Part of the Screen-Free Summer Life Skills Bingo Series.
Our ability to carry on balanced, thoughtful conversations ranks high in the hierarchy of life skills. It’s this ability to participate in meaningful conversations that enables us to connect, forge relationships, learn, grow and be inspired.
And today, when so many of our ideas are condensed into tweets, hashtags and contentious Facebook threads, we recognize a growing disparity between getting one’s opinion out there and actually engaging other human beings in meaningful discussion.
When it comes to raising our children, we may be tempted to think that their conversational skills will develop on their own, but more often than not, it takes a great deal of intentionality and joyful effort on our part to help them grow in this area.
Because it’s not about raising a child who knows the most or speaks the most. It’s about something more fundamental: raising humans who strive to talk and listen to one another in respectful ways.
Our children so clearly wish to be conversationalists. From infancy they babble to us and we inherently invite them to continue with our overjoyed responses. Kids possess the same desire as adults to be included, and to be heard. So much of what they learn is through discussions they forge with the adults who love them.
So what can we emphasize in our own conversational habits?
An Invitation – We are not reporters, and we aren’t conducting an interrogation. But the point of conversing with someone is to share thoughts, and in order to share thoughts…we’ve got to invite another person to share! Often times the most genuine way to carry on a conversation is to ask thoughtful questions of another – of their life, ideas, and experiences – and mean it when we initiate the question.
It’s very easy, but it’s amazing how rarely that simple act is given to another. When we’re with someone who genuinely wishes to hear our views/perspectives, it is a deeply moving and gratifying experience. Our children should see that we make a habit of this in our exchanges with others.
Listen…and Listen Some More – The greatest gift we have in our trove is to genuinely listen to a person when she or he is talking. Often our minds quickly rush to what we could say next or how the topic at hand relates to our own life. That’s not what we should be doing. We should be immersed in listening.
Perhaps we have a million things we need to say. We need to listen anyway. Perhaps we don’t agree with what the person is saying. We need to listen anyway. Perhaps we feel our concerns are SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than what another is speaking of, but we should listen anyway.
Respecting Our Differences – We’re all different. How wonderful and confusing is that?! Some love to talk, others do not. Some love to project, others to soak in. Some have no problem telling the world how they feel, and others need reassurance before they open up (hello, that’s me!). We still seek interconnectedness, despite our vast differences.
As we get to know and understand one another through conversation, we can speak with sincerity while also respecting these differences in needs. A little give and take is often a good thing. We will find this with even those closest to our heart – our spouse and children. It’s impossible to make everyone 100% satisfied, but respecting the person by our side can play a huge role in our ability to communicate to those who are different than us.
Raising Thoughtful Conversationalists
So how does all this translate when it comes to our kids? I think it’s actually pretty simple.
Intentionally Converse With Them – Notice how easy it is to half-heartedly listen to what our kids say? I often use my fatigue as an excuse to “tune the kids out”, but am amazed at how my attentive listening and willingness to converse soothes the source of my exhaustion and their frustrations. When a child feels respected and valued, it’s a joy to see them relish in a “talk” with their parent. We both walk away having learned something.
Provide Opportunities for Varied Discussion – Building a community of people who respect our children and wish to include them is invaluable. Providing a diversity of opportunities for our children to be a part of conversations gives them positive experiences and confidence they can carry with them into adulthood. This means we cultivate relationships with people in different seasons of life and different circumstances than our own. Reach out to elderly members of the community, encourage your child to thank a veteran, invite the neighbors over for Sunday brunch. In my experience, friends without children are an incredible source of conversation, as they tend to be more delighted and surprised by what children have to say that those of us in the day-to-day grind of parenthood.
“Three Things About Your Day“ Dinner Table Ritual – Sitting down for dinner every night with the family is a precious way to connect. One friend with adult children recommended his family’s dinner table ritual and it’s been a tremendous success! It’s simple: everyone takes a turn sharing three things about his/her day. What does this do for our family? It ensures that everyone is given a space to talk. It reminds us that everyone’s day is valuable and worthy of discussion. It sometimes forces us to think on our feet and be creative. It’s also a tremendous source of gratitude as we share the often funny and joyful moments.
Reflect On Past Conversations With Our Kids – Whether it’s grandma, a preschool friend or a co-workers, if a child has had a conversation (however simple), it can help for us to recount elements of these discussions with our kids.
“Isn’t it nice that Ms. B is going on a vacation?”
“Daddy said he had a lot going on at work today. I wonder how that’s going?”
Remembering aloud these conversations teaches our kids a few things: what we say to one another has meaning and what we share with one another is often worth remembering.
This might sound silly, but among the list of proud parenting moments , hearing (of their own fruition) my three-year-old ask his Daddy how work was or my five-year-old ask his teacher about her vacation is pretty high up there. My hope is that as they mature, their respect and appreciation for communicating with others will be an art form they cultivate.
Cultivating well-formed minds – Children have an incredible capacity to absorb information about the world around them, which enables them to forge connections with the people around them. We should never underestimate a young child’s interest and ability to discuss history, music, theology, modern day innovations, etc. Expose your children to things that are lovely, enriching, elevating and thought-provoking and watch their minds savor the experience. Listen to their unique understanding of their experiences and relish a meaningful conversation with them.
Lauren Cunningham is the wife of a loving husband, mother to three rambunctious kids and keeper of a brain that never wants to stop thinking. Her blog, Things I Teach My Children, aims to put down in coherent sentences the thoughts which have come about from discussions with many incredible people. It’s also an attempt to do something with those nights she can’t sleep ’til 2AM. You can find Lauren on Facebook and Instagram.
Enjoy this post? Check out the rest of the Screen-free Summer Life Skills Bingo Series and play along!