How to Start Stimulating Conversations at Home
Talking is a simple, totally free way to connect with kids on a deeper level by sharing your wisdom, sharing your thoughts or just sharing a laugh. This is a topic Stamford American International School students cover through a program called the Second Step Social Program.
For some parents though, conversation with children can often feel forced or rushed. At the end of a busy day, many of us are just too tired or distracted to strike up a conversation with anyone, let alone a child.
Talking with your kids doesn't have to be a chore – listed below are some easy and useful tips to help you and your children spark the kinds of stimulating, meaningful conversations you might be longing for:
Start with the basics
Set a solid foundation for kids by teaching them the basics of good conversation:
- Making good and consistent eye contact
- Using appropriate greetings
- Expanding to cover a range of topics
Encourage kids to make eye contact and to use appropriate greetings – saying "Hey, what's up?" to a sibling or peer is okay, but saying it to an elderly neighbor is rude.
Getting kids to extend a conversation with follow-up dialogue can be difficult. You can help by making a game of it. Write out some conversation topics on a set of index cards, then divide the cards by topic and make groups based on who those discussions would be most appropriate for, like friends, teachers, grandparents, new acquaintances, etc. For younger children, pictures of close friends and loved ones attached to the cards can help reinforce which topics are appropriate for a particular audience or person.
Once you've established the basics, be sure to give your child plenty of opportunity to practice their new skills. Model good conversation yourself whenever you can and look for safe ways to allow them to work on making eye contact, using polite greetings and engaging in appropriate follow-up. You might even let them greet people who come to your home, store employees when you're out shopping, waiting staff at a restaurant or staff at the doctor's or dentist's office – only when you or someone you trust is also present, of course.
Establish simple ground rules
To stimulate more meaningful conversation at home, most experts agree that meal times are the best times to engage kids. Try to sit down together for a meal at least a few times a week, and set some simple ground rules that everyone at the table must follow:
- Show up on time
- Turn the TV off
- Put homework away
- No devices, phones or electronics
- Everyone participates
- Be respectful and polite – no teasing, sulking, pouting or judging
By eliminating outside distractions and setting expectations for behavior, you create a space where everyone in the family will be more likely to share freely with each other. This is where great conversations start.
What to talk about
So, what should you talk about? The answer will be different for every family, but you can help things along with a little advanced preparation in the beginning. Print or write out conversation cards or a list of topics to keep on the table, choose weekly or daily themes, or give each family member a turn to select a question or topic to discuss.
You can play "getting to know you" games, like:
- If I could do/have/be...
- My biggest pet peeve is...
- What is the one invention you couldn't live without?
- If you could paint your room any color, what would it be?
- Name as many blue foods as you can
Other ideas for starting stimulating conversations, especially with older children include discussing age-appropriate news, sports news especially about a favorite team or player, a favorite movie or book, upcoming family holidays or weekend plans can spark lively conversation.
Engaging children through conversations can be fulfilling for the whole family and when done regularly helps create a strong bond with your children.
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