Raising well-mannered children is not for the faint of heart. It’s a constant teaching and molding process (with many bumps along the way no doubt!). But one thing we must not neglect is training our children to be respectful of others. And that includes the simple act of speaking to those around them. Our children’s manners series continues with teaching children the art of conversation.
Training children to be conversationalists is not something that can be taught in a day or in a manners class. It is an art form that we must teach and practice with our children throughout childhood in order to prepare them for adulthood.
Because think about it. The toddler currently running figure eights around our legs will one day sit for a college interview and will eventually have a job where he will be expected to communicate (non-awkwardly I might add) with his boss.
So it’s our duty as parents to start teaching communication skills while children are at home. The younger the better.
And, fellow mamas, we must not use “shyness” as an excuse for rudeness. It takes time and training and LOTS of patience, but even shy children can learn how to carry on a conversation.
1. Practice at home.
The dinner table is a wonderful place to practice many manners, including the natural rhythm of a conversation. Ask your children questions that don’t warrant a “yes” or “no” answer. Have them tell a story about their day.
As children get older you can work on teaching them how to tell stories that are an appropriate length and how one should never dominate a conversation, particularly a child in the company of adults.
Redirect, train and remind in a gentle and loving way at home so you aren’t tempted to criticize or embarrass a child out in public.
2. Don’t speak for your child when he can speak for himself.
It’s so easy to jump in and answer questions for our children at the doctor’s office, neighborhood playdates, and other birthday parties. (I find myself doing this all the time!) But try to wait and let your child answer first, even young toddlers who don’t have a lot of words yet. Give them space to talk.
If they don’t right away, try a gentle prompting without putting too much pressure on a nervous child (again it takes time!).
Tip: never shame a child in front of others for poor manners. Wait until you are back in the car or later for feedback and teaching.
3. Prep and role play with children.
As with all manners, prepping and role playing with children can be an extremely useful tool in building their confidence and giving them words.
Before you walk into a social setting, prep your children (particularly shy children) for what’s going to happen, who’s going to be there, and what is expected of them. Tell them that adults may ask them questions and you expect them to look them in the eye and answer questions.
Remember, children don’t innately know how to carry on a conversation. It comes through modeling (from us!) and sometimes spelling it out for them:
“Now when we leave the birthday party, we are going to find and say thank you to Jack’s mom. I will hold your hand if you are nervous but be sure to look her in the eye and say, ‘thank you for having me, Mrs. Smith.’ She may ask if you had a good time or what we are doing the rest of the weekend. You can tell her we are going to Grandma’s house.”
For my shy daughter, I would have “conversations” pretending I was the grocery store checkout lady or the Sunday School teacher and walk though a conversation with her. This is a good time to give children words and responses to tuck away in their sweet brains.
Another way to practice conversation is with guests in your home. If you are having friends over for dinner, suggest questions your children could ask that would also interest them and thus make for easy conversation. “Can you tell me about your mission trip to Africa?” “What is your favorite sports team?” “Are there really a lot of earthquakes in California?”
4. Teach them the 2 parts of conversation.
Talking and listening. We all know how it feels when people start looking at their phones while we are talking or immediately jump in and say something completely unrelated without acknowledging what we just said. It hurts!
The best way to keep children’s focus on the conversation is to train then to always look adults in the eye when speaking and being spoken to (and this takes a lot of reminding!). This includes expecting your children to look YOU in the eye.
As I said in this post, if we don’t expect our children to treat their own parents with respect then how can we expect them to treat us with respect.
5. Praise shy children for making small strides.
With shy children in particular it’s all about baby steps. Praise them for the steps they make and keep encouraging and reminding the other steps they are working on. It will happen!
There are more parts of the conversation that you can train as children get older: body cues, when to change the topic, when to end a conversation, and how to be inclusive. Once you get down the basics you can work on these other things over the dinner table or with gentle feedback after a conversation.
What things have you done to teach children the art of the conversation? Share below!
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Photos: Brenna Kneiss