Helping Your Kids Develop Conversational Skills
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” —Bill Nye the Science Guy
With kids spending so much time on digital media, most parents worry how they will ever develop face-to-face conversational skills. How will they handle the give-and-take of “real” conversations in real time? How will they make new friends if they’d rather type than talk?
As an online school provider, we’ve been addressing these and other socialization questions since first opening our “digital doors” in 2002. So we’d like to share some practical tips our teachers, counselors, and parents have developed over time. Whether your kids attend a virtual school or a bricks-and-mortar one, we think you’ll find these tips helpful.
Four Tips for Modeling Good Conversational Habits at Home
While schools play a role in forming good habits, the reality is that children learn foundational conversational skills and social behaviors at home. With technology now changing the way we all communicate, today’s parents have to more intentionally model the face-to-face conversational skills that children need to learn. These four tips can help.
Declare family dinners device-free.
Your kids can’t develop face-to-face conversational skills at dinner if the entire family is face-to-phone. So declare family dinners device-free. Ask each family member to leave their smartphones or tablets elsewhere. Need technological reinforcement? Common Sense Media recommends several apps that can help you set aside device-free time zones, including Moment Family, Breakfree, and DinnerTime Plus. If the troops rebel, start small with one dinner a week, and show them how fun it can be by implementing the rest of the tips below.
Ask open-ended or fun questions to get the conversation rolling.
If you ask your kids “How was your school day?”, you’re likely to get a one-word response that goes nowhere (“Fine.”). Instead, ask them what they think about what they learned. For example, “I saw that today’s LiveLesson covered the women’s suffrage movement. What did you think of their fight for the right to vote?”
For a more playful conversation, ask questions like, “What was the funniest/strangest thing you saw or did today?” Be ready to prime them with an example of your own. (True story: “On my way to work, I saw a food truck with a giant robotic chicken on its roof.”) Need some suggestions for conversation starters? Check out these tips from the Family Dinner Project.
By example, you’re actually teaching your children people skills, such as how to find common interests and get their own conversations started.
Make eye contact and model how to read body language.
Face-to-face conversations can convey much more than a conversation by way of texting can. But kids have to learn how to read the body language that spells agreement, disagreement, disinterest, and more. Show your kids how to do this by making eye contact and responding appropriately to their body language: “Did you finish your story/point? You looked like you had more to say.”
Without stating explicit “grammar rules,” you’ll show them how to read body language and tune in to other’s feelings.
As the saying goes, “Listen to learn, not to reply.” The key to great conversation is really listening and trying to understand what other people are saying. You can demonstrate active listening skills to your kids by:
- Repeating or rephrasing what they’ve just said. (“Wow! So you’re saying that the suffragettes really endured hardships.”)
- Asking follow-up questions.
- Hearing them out completely without interruption.
- Acknowledging when they’ve told you something you didn’t know.
When you show you are truly listening to your kids, you’re teaching them how to listen respectfully to others. That’s the bedrock of good conversation and great friendships.
Projects and Resources to Inspire More Conversation
Want more ideas to keep the conversations going and the skills growing?
With the holidays just around the corner, consider hosting a Device-Free Friendsgiving Dinner using these great tips and resources from Common Sense Media. Or take advantage of having the whole family together to trace your family tree and encourage multigenerational conversations.
Try these out and then tell us how the conversation went in the comments below.