Babbling begins as early as six months of age. Speaking comes between ages one and two. However, the art of starting and holding a conversation is a talent that can take years to develop. While our kids will always find a way to let us know what they want, how do you teach your child conversation skills that will help them thrive in their future?
How to Begin a Conversation
“Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Julie Andrews sang this iconic song in the Sound of Music and the message is extremely important. You need to start with the basics. Thus, how do you actually start a conversation?
First, you must greet the person. Then, you need to introduce a topic to discuss. This seems simple enough, but remember, your child has never done this before. Therefore, they need to think about a question that they want to ask or a commonality they have with the other person.
If they have never met the individual before, then they can bridge the gap with a positive observation, an inquiry, or a compliment. Additionally, it is important for them to understand how to interject into an existing conversation. Minding their manners is key in this scenario. Thus, waiting for a natural pause and then using phrases like “excuse me” or “pardon me”, can politely signal the need for attention.
Did you know that experts believe that at least 70% of communication is non-verbal?
In fact, Albert Mehrabian, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, conducted experiments back in the late 1960s that support this premise. Using the information gathered in these tests, he theorized that “the interpretation of a message is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. The conclusion was that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature.
Taking this information, one can conclude that a person deciphers the meaning of a message not through what is actually being said. Instead, it is more the tone and inflection of the person speaking as well as their posture, gestures and facial expressions. Thus, in order to hold a conversation, one needs to pay attention to what they are doing while they are talking.
Part of holding a conversation is showing genuine interest. Therefore, in order to enhance their conversation skills, your child needs to first pay attention to their posture. Sitting or standing up straight and slightly leaning into the person with who they are conversing is imperative. This gives the impression that they are engaged and interested in what the other participants have to say.
Additionally, nodding and maintaining eye contact is crucial. These gestures signal to the other person that you are focused on what they are saying and that you want to continue to converse. It is also important to note that fidgeting conveys the opposite message. If your child is biting their nails, playing on their phone, and squirming in their chair, it implies that they want to be done with this exchange.
Goldilocks had the right idea with finding the option that was just right. During a conversation, it is imperative that your child pays attention to their proximity to other people. Too close and it can make them feel uncomfortable. Too far and it can hint towards disinterest. They need to find the perfect middle ground — which is usually around two to three feet (depending on their age).
A smile not only exudes happiness, but it shows a sense of fulfillment in the comments being made. This rewards the recipient of the grin. By smiling and smirking throughout a conversation, you literally show your true feelings throughout the discussion. People are more willing to continue speaking to a seemingly happy person. This small act can help your child to build solid relationships.
Paying attention throughout a conversation is imperative for keeping the discussion moving forward. Active listening is the technique of removing distractions and fully focusing on the person speaking in order to get the most out of the exchange.
For a child, this means getting on an even level with the person they are talking to — for example, sitting down with a person if they are seated. Moreover, staying off of their devices and using those aforementioned positive non-verbal cues allows those who are speaking to feel seen and heard. This behavior builds trust, and in time, friendship.
The Power Of Words
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
— Mother Teresa
The words we choose to convey a message can have a great influence on the person listening. They can uplift, inform or destroy. It is important that our children understand that what they say matters. Moreover, just like with a tube of toothpaste, once the words come out, you can’t put them back in.
This is why you should also focus on teaching your child the benefits of showing empathy. Even when they feel angry or hurt, it is important to look at the whole picture. In the award-winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch states “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”
This profound comment highlights the importance of perspective. If a person is acting out of character, then one needs to take a step back to try and examine why this normally kind person is speaking this way. Instruct them to take a pause and ask questions in this situation. The ability to provide comfort and support in difficult times can be hard to master. However, once they do, it enhances their ability to converse and relate to the other person.
Practice Makes Perfect
Give your child ample opportunities to engage in conversation. This will allow them to develop these skills and become more in tune with other’s emotions. Thus, ask them questions regularly. Take time each day to sit down at dinner and talk about each other’s days. This helps your child to see how to take turns throughout the exchange.
Moreover, let them ask questions when you need information. Hence, if you can’t find something at the grocery store, have them ask the store employee. If you are picking up a prescription, have them ask for the order. When you run out of sugar, have them go to the neighbor’s house to inquire if you can borrow some.
Why Is Holding A Conversation Difficult?
Having a conversation is like being a part of a dance. There is a give and take between the parties involved. It requires the ability to interpret commentary quickly and come up with a meaningful retort. You also need the aptitude to read other’s emotions as well as to understand when it is appropriate to speak versus when you should listen.
Unfortunately, the struggle with conversing has only become exemplified over the past two decades, with technology becoming more and more of a dependency. Before cell phones and computers were used for daily, if not hourly, correspondence, individuals had to have face-to-face interactions. There was no time to think long and hard before responding. You had to determine an appropriate and beneficial comment in a matter of seconds.
This communication crutch has been shown to lead to social anxieties and it enhances the fear of public speaking, something that plagues 77% of the population. Therefore, it is imperative that you start to teach your child conversation skills early and give them opportunities to practice often!
FAQs – How To Teach Your Child Conversation Skills
How do I teach my child to answer questions that they don’t know how to answer?
This is where the proverb “Honesty is the best policy” comes into play. If your child does not know the answer to something, remind them that it is okay to be truthful.
In this scenario, they can either express that they do not know the answer or they can remain quiet, allowing someone who does know to respond. As Abraham Lincoln astutely stated, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”.
Learning how to effectively communicate is an essential social skill that can help your child succeed in school, build friendships, express their emotions and ask for help when an issue arises. If you want to teach your child conversation skills, remember that this is a long-term project.
The key to success is to start working on the basics early, practicing regularly, and praising them when they conduct a positive exchange. When they struggle with certain concepts, make a point to address any mistakes in a constructive manner.
Lastly, children are like sponges. They absorb everything you do and mimic your behaviors. Thus, be a good role model and showcase beneficial conversation techniques. This can go a long way to better equipping your child in social situations moving forward, especially when you are not around!