Can you recall a great conversation that you have recently had? Chances are that you remember it because you were actively involved. Your conversational partner may have asked for your opinion or given you opportunity to speak about yourself and your interests. Perhaps you had a robust debate where both of you were able to air your views.
You may not consciously know what qualities make a great conversationalist, but you certainly know when you’re speaking with one. Great conversationalists value you. They take time to ask questions and listen to your answers. Their questions and comments encourage you to share more and reveal a little bit of who you truly are. Great conversationalists are interested.
So what can we do to encourage our children to develop the art of conversation?
1. Start early. Conversation skills are forming from birth. Look into your baby’s face. Talk to her. Copy the sounds he makes. Let her see your facial expressions and gestures and listen to your sounds. Pause so he can respond and say something back to you. These early rhythms of communication are helping your child take turns, vocalise and listen, and are the best start for building communication and conversation.
2. Keep it going. Interpret your toddler’s intentional pointing, sounds and gestures. Follow his lead and respond with words and actions.
3. Ask questions. Ask her to tell you stories. Begin to ask “why” questions and pursue the conversation until you have reached a useful answer. When you ask ‘why?’ and your child responds with ‘cause’, purse it further. ‘Tell me about when…, What happened next… Then what… How do you know…?
4. Manage the monologues. We want our children to be conversationalists and not chatterboxes who run off on lengthy monologues.
· Model good listening in conversations
· Talk about how to have a good conversation
· Show your child how to follow up with a comment or question
· When your child pauses to take a breath, ask a question to redirect your child back to the topic at hand.
· Ask your child to slow down and listen
· Help her to become a more attentive listener by thinking of comments to make or questions to ask.
5. Practise! You will be amazed at some of the wonderful things you learn about your child and how they think when you take the time to intentionally engage in conversation.
6. Don’t be afraid of debate. As your child approaches upper primary, good conversations can become lively debates. Try being deliberately provocative or play the role of ‘devil’s advocate’. By challenging your child now and then you can help them put their opinions into persuasive words.
Conversations can be serious, fun or thought provoking. Just remember it’s the spontaneity and fun that will encourage your child’s ideas and make them want to hang out with you and keep talking.