Helping your children develop conversational skills

I believe that, within reason, I need to model to, and encourage, our children in how to initiate conversations with strangers. This is a great social skill, especially when they are older at parties, in work situations etc but also in general day to day life.

I love how my own kids have seen me do this enough that it is becoming second nature to them in certain situations. I think back to being on holidays six years ago. The first day we arrived at the resort on our holiday, Princess, who was 10 years old at the time, took her and Matey to the pool and spa whilst I was finishing the unpacking. I could see them from our room and they knew I wouldn’t be long. They were both competent swimmers, Princess being in our local swim squad, competent in all freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. She had passed the equivalent of the bronze medallion in life saving. I didn’t normally allow them to go near water on their own, but I felt very comfortable in that situation, already knowing the pool from previous years holiday. By the time I arrived 10 minutes later, Princess had struck up a conversation in the spa with an older lady, the only other person around. She had found out that this lady lived not far from where I grew up in Tasmania. During our holiday, every time we saw this lady around, the lady and Princess continued their conversation. It was great to see the kids conversing with people of all ages.

Over twenty years ago, hubby and I did a leadership course and learnt a valuable method of trying to initiate a conversation with people to get to the level of sharing deeper than surface level (ie more than just talking about the weather). We memorised a picture with twelve different parts to it. Each part of the picture represented a phase of a conversation. You then linked in your mind those parts of the picture to a question that you can ask the person to get a conversation flowing. It helps if, in your mind, you can picture yourself walking through the picture. Very occasionally in those awkward situations where the other person isn’t initiating conversation, I drag this picture to the front of my mind.

The parts of the picture in my mind:

  1. Bronze Name plate
  • Hi, my name is… What’s your name?
  1. On top of the name plate is a house.
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you live around here?
  • Have you lived there long?
  • Where did you grow up?
  1. On the roof of the house are people/family & a dog.
  • What close family do you have?
  • Do you share a house with anyone?
  • Do you have any pets?
  1. Look closer at the dad (or main person) and see that they have a work glove on their hand.
  • How do you spend the majority of your time?
  • What do you do for a job?
  • Have you worked at that job for long?
  1. You now notice that the work glove is holding an aeroplane.
  • Do you have any holiday plans?
  • Have you been anywhere exciting for holidays?
  • Where’s the most memorable place in the world you have been?
  • What’s your best recommendation for a holiday?
  1. Look again at the aeroplane and notice that in each of the plane’s propeller’s there is something stuck. Look at one side – there is a tennis racket sticking out of the propeller.
  • What do you like doing in your spare time?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What is your favourite movie (or book)?
  • What do you like doing for fun?
  1. Attached to the top of the tennis racket is a flashing light bulb.
  • What great ideas have you had?
  • What would you like to invent?
  • What would you change about the world if you could?
  • If you could do anything and money wasn’t an issue, what would you do?
  1. Your attention now goes to the other side of the plane. Caught in the propeller on the other side of the plane is a PFC Can (Problems, Frustrations/Fears, Concerns).
  • What do you see as the greatest problem in the world?
  • What would be your biggest concern?
  1. Now look towards the front of the aeroplane. Stuck on the nose of the aeroplane is a trophy.
  • What have been your greatest achievements so far in your life?”
  • What are you most proud of in your life?
  • What are you most celebrated for?
  1. You then look over the trophy to where the plane is flying. In the distance is a set of football goal posts.
  • What are your goals in life?
  • What would you like to achieve in the next 12 months?
  1. Over the top of the football goal posts is a beautiful sunset.
  • Who has inspired you the most in your life?
  • Who are your heroes?
  1. On top of the sunset is a pair of praying hands.
  • If there was something I could pray for you, what would it be?
  • If you could ask God one thing, what would it be?

This is not the ‘ultimate’ in making you a great conversationalist but it helps give you some ideas to springboard from in your communication with people. These questions are not meant so that you interrogate people, but just to help create a flow in the conversation if you become stuck with what to say next. Being able to carry on a great conversation is a skill, one that usually has to be learnt.

I encourage you to start going through this with your kids and memorising it and practicing it on each other. Pretend to be unusual characters. Have fun and learn at the same time. A great place to start this is in the car or at the dinner table.

What do you do to help your children prepare for having great conversation skills in any social setting?

3 thoughts on “Helping your children develop conversational skills

  1. Karen

    This is a brilliant resource Jane…I remember learning a similar way in my teens…..quick question though-do you find this works with current generation kids?
    Our kids will generally talk to anyone, but our eldest has commented (when I taught him something similar years ago) that the kids at school etc.when he applied these principles- It seemed to be just one way conversation. They’d answer but it would be really closed…even with follow up questions and showing interest in the other person. It seems it’s often not reciprocated. I’ve experinced this as an adult also. You and your family are friendly to all, but I think you might be a rare crew.
    We’ve had many occasions where other children have looked at ours as freaks, because they have tried to say hello. (Have we made kids paranoid with stranger danger? Have you experinced this at all?) Thankfully our current trip has smashed this common occurence and they’ve met some friendly kids.
    Older gen.seem to be able to converse more easily. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Ellen

      Hi Jane and Karen!
      I just had an experience this week of talking with a younger person at a bus stop who asked me twice why I was asking her questions. She was not impressed! To be fair, I failed at showing kindness to her by gently trying to gain her attention and I came across all wrong, asking her why she was dressed so warmly in such hot weather! It was so sad! I was so sure she was going to tell me that she grew up in a middle eastern country and this temperature was quite cold for her but it wasn’ the case. This was a good lesson to my 8 year old who was with me on how to NOT strike up a conversation with someone. Just because I was right next to her didn’t mean that she expected I was going to talk to her. Thankfully, my daughter didn’t dwell on the fact the teen was quite sharp with me.
      Funnily enough, this week there was a sign up on the busses in London claiming that having small conversations with people can contribute to peoples well being. So, even if you don’t share on a deeper level, showing a little interest in someone can really make a difference to their mental health (and mine!).
      Will be sure to show my children that great picture Jane!
      🙂 Ellen

      • Jane Post author

        Thank you so much both Karen and Ellen for your insightful comments. I totally agree with you both. Karen – yes, many from the younger generation don’t know how to chat with strangers and if it is even appropriate. Perhaps communication may well be different in the future with so much emphasis now on communicating via social media. I also feel that that is sad and not a sufficient excuse to not learn how to communicate well with a broad range of people, especially as teenagers and children become adults and hopefully will have a variety of experiences in their lives where they will be required to use their conversational skills in a helpful manner. Perhaps we need to compile a new ‘conversational stacker’ for chatting with kids and teenagers that addresses more of what they are in to with social media, gaming, school this conversational stacker is certainly more suited to adults. I only hope, though, that teenagers are having indepth conversations, somewhere, about feelings and hopes and dreams, and hopefully with their family or significant others.

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