Do you remember when you were a child and you suddenly became interested in participating in conversations with your friends and family? You know, that moment when you had the verbal skills and the social awareness to engage in meaningful conversations?
I sure don’t, and I know that’s because my parents taught me slowly, over many long years, the skills that are required to have a conversation with another person. They were up against many odds; my reluctance to look up from whatever book I was reading, my painful shyness, and whatever family sitcom was on tv at the time.
Raising kids in the digital age, the odds seem to be infinitesimally larger than the odds my folks were up against when it comes to teaching kids the art of conversation. The digital devices that my children are growing up with compared to what I had when I was a child (Reader Rabbit and Atari, anyone?) are complex beyond all imagination and seductive as hell.
When the world is literally at their fingertips, why would they ever break eye contact with their devices?
Answer: Because though their devices are around to stay, so are people, and interacting with people live and in living colour is going to continue to be a requirement in their lives. At least until the robots take over.
That means it is up to us as parents and teachers to instill and encourage conversational skills in our children. It seems like a daunting task, but I have found in my work as a school counsellor and now in my role as a parent that there are a few things we can do to help engage our kids in conversation.
Start with You. When it comes to showing our children the skills that are required to converse with others, we need to start with ourselves. What are we modelling in our own conversational habits? Many of us are talking to our children while sending a quick text, writing a brief email, or updating a social status (guilty as charged). Also, ask yourself when the last time you made eye contact with your child was? No, glaring at them while giving them a lecture doesn’t count. Model the behaviour you want to encourage.
Play to Their Comfort Zone. Not every child is going to want to sit across from their parent, make extended eye contact,and talk about what has been on their mind all day. In fact, for some children this will turn them off immediately and lead to them shutting the conversation down. In my work with kids, I have found that sitting beside them instead of across from them can feel far less intimidating. Some of the best conversations I had as a teen with my parents were side by side in the car. Also, having something tactile that they can do while they talk (think markers, paper, a few blocks, or a fidget on the table) may help some kids open up by taking the pressure off of talking and creating a more casual atmosphere.
Enter their World. When I was a school counsellor, I received many questions from parents about ways that they can interact positively with their child, and have meaningful conversations together. Some would express frustration that their child was interested in things that they had absolutely no interest in. To that I say, it can be extremely effective for a parent to enter the child’s world. Take an interest in what interests them, even if you have no interest in it yourself. If you ask them questions about things that excite them, and appear genuinely interested in their response, they are much more likely to engage in conversation with you.
Make it Fun. There are lots of different ways to make talking with your child fun. One way is to invest in conversation cards, like the ones I used from Tiffin Talk. Tiffin Talk is a box of questions, which are designed specifically for ages ranging from Preschool all the way to High School and include a “Finding Your Voice” series for specific issues like self harm and grief. Along with age-appropriate open-ended questions, the cards also include a fun activity to encourage skill development in number play, puzzle solving, and letter recognition. The Tiffin Talk cards encourage parents and their children to have “tech off, talk on” time together.
To help develop conversational skills with my 3.5 year old, and to increase the quality “tech off, talk on” time we have together, I implemented “talk time” with my daughter every day after lunch while her brother has a nap. At this time all tech gets turned off, we grab a little snack and her favourite purple pen, and we spend time together using the Tiffin Talk card-of-the-day as our jumping off point. Embedding “talk time” into her daily routine ensures that she gets a little bit of quality one-on-one time every day, and she loves every minute of it. So much so, that if we miss a day she wonders when she gets her special talk time.
The Tiffin Talk cards are very user friendly, and not prescriptive in a way that limits the conversations that can take place. The questions are open-ended, allowing the user to take the conversation whatever it may lead, and the activities on the back of the cards are an effective added engagement strategy.
I recently read that when a child is struggling behaviourally, connecting with that child in a non-intimidating, genuine, and meaningful way can make a big difference. Taking “tech-off, talk-on” time with your child and using Tiffin Talk cards can help to do just that. Your child’s conversational skills may be learned gradually over time like they were for me, but the quality time that you spend with your child will last a lifetime.
This post was sponsored by Tiffin Talk. All opinions expressed in the post are my own.