Recently a mother told me about a sleepover her daughter had hosted. She peeked in on the girls at one point because it had gotten so quiet. The girls were sitting around the room texting and playing video games on their telephones. She had to remove the devices to get them to interact with each other.
In some, ways the scenario is amusing. It is a real reflection of how technical devices amuse (and possibly control!) almost everyone in our society. On the other hand, I am afraid this generation of children will be unable to converse effectively with another human being.
There are many times as a Christian when you need to be an extremely effective conversationalist. Making visitors to your congregation feel welcome, comforting someone who is hurting, sharing your faith, even serving others requires us to be able to communicate effectively.
Since even adults are quickly losing the fine art of conversation, our children will need to be actively taught how to communicate. The skills they develop will help them share any message they have effectively. It will help them actually hear the needs of others so they can serve them and share their faith with them. A good conversationalist can make visitors feel welcome and diffuse tense situations. An effective communicator and listener has many of the tools necessary to help change the world for God.
So what skills does your child need to effectively communicate and actively listen to others? In my next post, I will give you some fun ways to practice these with your children, but here are the basic skills you should help your child develop.
- The initial contact between two people is crucial. Your children should want to make the other person feel as if he is welcomed and loved, even if it is someone they just met. It is important to teach our children to smile, look the person directly in the eyes, offer a friendly greeting and either a handshake or a hug (depending upon the relationship). The handshake should be firm, not weak and limp or strong enough to cause the other person to feel uncomfortable. A woman who works in the local Girl Scout office would shake my daughter’s hand every time she saw her and critique the handshake. We laughed about it at the time, but it really taught my introverted daughter how to give a “proper” handshake.
- Your children should be able to ask appropriate open ended questions of the other person. The questions should not be too personal or inappropriate for the relationship. Teach your children how to ask the next appropriate question after the first question is answered. Conversation is like a tennis game. It should flow smoothly back and forth between the people in the conversation. If one of the people suddenly struggles, your children should know how to re-start the conversation and make everyone feel at ease.
- Help your children learn to use another person’s name in a conversation so that it sounds natural. People love to hear their own name and it will help your children remember the name of a new person more quickly. Be careful though. It is better not to use the name, than to overuse it or use it in a manner that sounds stilted. (“Yes, Ann. You, Ann are a very good judge of restaurants, Ann.”)
- Teach your children to think about the purpose of each conversation. Are they trying to find out what kind of help someone needs? Are they trying to point someone towards God? Are they trying to comfort someone? Are they trying to help someone celebrate a happy event? Do they want to establish common ground with visitors, so they will feel welcome and connected? The questions they ask should move the conversation in the direction of the ultimate goal.
- Train your children to stay focused on the people in the conversation. There is nothing more natural and yet often more hurtful to the other person than becoming distracted while someone is talking. Your children should focus their gaze on the person, without staring. They should not be glancing around the room looking for what they want to do next. Train your children to nod or make small comments to show they are engaged in the conversation. Telephones should be ignored unless there is an actual legitimate chance it is an emergency.
- If your children have to interrupt the conversation for some reason, teach them to immediately apologize and ask permission to leave the conversation. Good manners may seem old fashioned, but they are actually a way to show the other person she is loved, respected and valued.
- There is nothing more hurtful than trying to join a conversation and have others block you from entering the conversational “circle”. Teach your children to take a step back and make room for the new person. Encourage them to make a summary statement to catch the new person up with the current conversation. Have them ask the new person an open ended question which will encourage the other people in the conversation to include the new person.
- Help your children learn how to naturally reflect back to others in the conversation what they have said. Most people are really awkward when they try this. Either they talk over the person while they are talking, parroting the same thing the person is saying or they make some canned statement like “What I hear you saying is…”. Instead, teach your children to reflect more naturally, both the emotion and any important content in the conversation. For example, “Wow, it most be really hard to not have heat in this cold weather. It sounds like you could use some help with your electric bill and some warm blankets in the meantime?”If your children are corrected in their understanding of the conversation, teach them not to take offense, but continue to ask questions to clarify the needs of the other person.
- Train your children to end a conversation with a heartfelt parting comment. The comment should be honest (There is nothing worse than someone promising to call who has no intention of ever really doing so.) and loving. It should leave the other person feeling they were not only heard, but cared for during the conversation. The other person should know you still care for them as you walk away and will be there for them should they ever need someone to show them God’s love.
Do you have other favorite conversation tips you have taught your children? I would love for you to share them with the rest of us in a comment below. In my next post, I will share some fun ways to help your children practice these skills.