First, let me clarify what this post is not about. It’s not a hankering that we raise our children to speak as characters in a Jane Austen novel.
Though that’d be awesome
It’s about something more fundamental: raising humans who can talk and listen to one another in meaningful ways.
We have all experienced unbalanced conversations. Perhaps we did too much of the talking. Perhaps we had a genuine desire to share our thoughts, but were not given the space and time by others. When unbalanced conversations become a habit, opportunities to connect are lost.
Among the hierarchy of life skills, the ability to carry on a balanced, thoughtful conversation ranks high. It gives us the ability to connect, forge relationships, delve deeper into those relationships, learn, grow and be inspired.
Conversations do not have to be long. They do not require talkative people. But they do require people who genuinely wish to exchange thoughts and ideas with another.
Our children so clearly wish to be conversationalists. From infancy they babble to us and we inherently invite them to continue with our overjoyed responses. Kids possess the same desire as adults to be included, and to be heard. So much of what they learn is via discussions they forge with the adults who love them.
Children are taking every word in, and replicating many of our habits. It’s in everyone’s best interest to model thoughtful ways of communication. Though we often reflect on the topics that can make up good conversation (past experiences, politics, reality TV), the raw ingredients necessary for meaningful conversations are rarely emphasized. And it’s the ability to appreciate those ingredients that embody the art of thoughtful conversations. So what can we emphasize?
We are not reporters, and we aren’t conducting an interrogation. But the point of conversing with someone is to share thoughts, and in order to share thoughts…we’ve got to invite another person to share! Often times the most genuine way to carry on a conversation is to ask thoughtful questions of another – of their life, ideas, experiences – and mean it when we initiate the question.
It’s very easy, but it’s amazing how rarely that simple act is given to another. When we’re with someone who genuinely wishes to hear our views/perspectives, it is a deeply moving and gratifying experience. We feel included. It opens the door to trust, and confidence.
Listen…and Listen Some More
The greatest gift we have in our trove is to genuinely listen to a person when she or he is talking. Often our minds quickly rush to what we could say next or how the topic at hand relates to our own life. But that’s not what we should be doing. We should be immersed in listening.
Perhaps we have a million things we need to say. We need to listen anyways. Perhaps we don’t agree with what the person is saying. We need to listen anyway. Perhaps we feel our concerns are SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than what another is speaking of, but we should listen anyways. Honestly, it’s amazing how a crisis or misunderstanding can be so quickly remedied when we give the gift of listening.
Respecting Our Differences
We’re all different. How wonderful and confusing is that?! Some love to talk, others do not. Some love to project, others to soak in. Some have no problem telling the world how they feel, and others need reassurance before they open up (hello, that’s me!). We still seek interconnectedness, despite our vast differences.
As we get to know another, and understand one another through conversation, we can speak with sincerity while also respecting these differences in needs. A little give and take is often a good thing.
It’s impossible to make everyone 100% satisfied, but respecting the person by our side can play a huge role in our ability to communicate to those who are different than us. Even if we miss the mark, our striving for it will often be appreciated. Ultimately, it’s this respect that separates meaningful discussion from superficial exchange.
Raising Thoughtful Conversationalists
“Tell me your thoughts on Heidegger, brother.”
So how does all this translate when it comes to our kids? I think it’s actually pretty simple.
Actually Converse With Them – Notice how easy it is to half heartily listen to what our kids say? I often use my fatigue as an excuse to “tune the kids out”, but am amazed at how my attentive listening and willingness to converse soothes the source of my exhaustion. When a child feels respected and valued, it’s a joy to see them relish in a “talk” with their parent. We both walk away having learned something.
Provide Opportunity for Varied Discussion – Building a community of people who respect our children and wish to include them is invaluable. Providing a diversity of opportunities for our children to be a part of conversations gives them positive experiences and confidence they can carry with them into adulthood.
Reflect On Past Conversations With Them – Whether it’s grandma, a preschool friend or a co-workers, if a child has had a conversation (however simple), it can help for us to recount elements of these discussions with our kids.
“Isn’t it nice that Ms. B is going on a vacation?”
“Daddy said he had a lot going on at work today. Wonder how that’s going?”
Remembering aloud these conversations teaches our kids a few things: what we say to one another has meaning and what we share with one another is often worth remembering.
This might sound silly, but among the list of proud parenting moments , hearing (of their own fruition) my two-year-old ask his Daddy how work was or my five-year-old ask his teacher about her vacation is pretty high up there. My hope is that as they mature, their respect and appreciation for communicating with others will be an art form they cultivate.
So what do you think? Are there other qualities of a good conversationalist that should be added to the list? What are ways you help your kids become thoughtful in how they communicate with others?
I’m listening 🙂