Teach your kids the art of conversation

Let's talk about talk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

From the time our children are born, we have been told how important it is to talk to and with them. But no one said how hard that would be. We love their enthusiasm for the things that capture their interest, but not the endless recitation about dinosaurs.

The key is teaching our children what makes a good conversationalist. "We need to teach kids of all ages that conversation is give-and-take, with responsibilities for both participants," says Betsy Dill, a creative writing teacher.

The basics, such as not interrupting and saying "please" and "thank you", lay the foundation upon which we add the softer skills that help our children turn into people with whom conversing is a pleasure.

While those skills don't always come naturally, they can be taught. Here are 10 ways to guide your children to becoming better conversationalists.

1. Talk to them If you don't have conversations with your children, you can't teach them how to have that interaction.

2. Practise active listening Sometimes, a child will act bored around another sibling or friend who is talking about a topic that doesn't interest her, and yet will expect rapt concentration when she has the floor. "Active listening is paying attention to what the other person is saying without planning what you're going to say or thinking about something else," says Dill.

3. Cut to the chase Children have a hard time figuring out what the main point of a story is, so they tend to flood their recitations with all the facts. "You don't have to give a blow-by-blow description of the story because that puts people to sleep," says Dill. Ask questions that can help a child figure out the nugget worth sharing, including what they liked most about an event, what their favourite part was, what struck them as funny.

4. Take a breath Learning when to pause is just as important as learning when to speak.

5. Learn, learn, learn "You can't have a conversation if you don't know anything about anything," says Judith Hervay, a mother of two teenage girls. "To have a rich, intellectually rewarding and empathic conversation, you really should know things about the world." Reading age-appropriate books, visiting museums and taking up hobbies are just some ways for children to enrich their minds - and give them something to talk about.

6. Develop questions "The basic foundation to any conversation is having a subject," says Rebecca Czarniecki, a US teacher of social etiquette to children. "And one great way for kids to find that subject is to ask a question of their conversation partner." She suggests writing down questions and putting them in a bowl to be used at the table for conversation starters.

7. Develop empathy "What makes someone good at conversation? Putting one's self in the other person's place," says Hervay. Empathy allows us to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. "A person … will be bored if they don't have empathy because they won't be interested in the other person."

8. Value silence Staying quiet can be very hard for children, but parents should encourage their young ones to not talk sometimes. We should help our children realise that just because they have something to say, doesn't mean they always have to say it.

9. Be polite Sometimes we know more about a subject than the other person, and the temptation to point that out can be great. Other times, we don't find the topic exciting or of interest to us.

10. Practise Conversing is a back-and-forth exchange. One fun way to practise the give and take of conversation is by tossing a small ball or water balloon. Toss it to the other person and ask a question, then the other person answers the question and tosses it back. "That helps children visually see the art of giving and receiving in conversation," says Czarniecki.

"People can be so interesting. As parents, one of our jobs is to foster this curiosity and tell them that every human being matters," says Hervay. The Washington Post

Sarah Hamaker is a certified leadership parenting coach and the author of Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace