Helping to teach children to effectively converse with others is a major undertaking.
Here, we’ll discuss just one small area of the vast subject of developing conversation skills for children – that of polite dialogue. In this context, ‘polite’ doesn’t mean dealing with rude words but simply give-and-take speaking with others.
Conversation skills for children – the principle of ‘turns’
Kids develop and mature at very different rates but at sometime between the age of 2-3, they should be capable of recognising that when someone is speaking to them, it makes sense to not talk over the top of them.
Young children are very impulse driven and if they want to speak, they will and even if someone else is speaking to them at the same time. So, your first task is to teach them to wait until someone has finished before starting to ‘have their say’. In other words, taking their turn.
This isn’t an easy thing to teach and there is no fixed way of doing so. Some patience will be required.
Children and listening
The next thing you will need to work on is listening.
Kids can be notoriously bad at this in their earlier years because even once they’ve learned to take turns in speaking, they may well have shut out what the other person is saying while they’re rehearsing in their head what they plan to say.
You can help them here by making rewards conditional upon how well they’ve listened to what you’re saying. This can be dressed up in a game that both tests their listening and turn-taking in speaking skills.
Verbosity and terseness
Some children are naturally verbose “chatterboxes”, whereas others use words very sparingly. The ‘why’ here is unknown but there are indications that genetics play a part.
The former can be tiring for other adults and children and they can also encourage other kids to talk over them in desperation to finally have their say. The latter can sometimes struggle to fully socialise with others and may not always communicate clearly what they mean.
In both cases, you can lead by example. Try to explain to verbose children that they need to pause more often to let others have their say. Terse children need to be gently encouraged to say more and make themselves better understood.
The techniques you choose will vary depending upon your child but there are some excellent detailed guides available online and a child speech specialist might be able to help too.
Lead by example
Huge amounts of childhood behaviours are copied from parents. So, if you and your partner adopt bad communication practices, expect your children to replicate them.
A few examples for ‘in front of the kids’ situations:
- try not to argue because apart from the emotional conflict that might create in your children, good conversation disciplines tend to break down in such circumstances;
- avoid talking over the top of each other;
- never ridicule or disparage something your partner has just said, even if you fundamentally disagree;
- don’t get angry during a conversation;
- don’t use expletives.
Make time to converse
The single most important tip to help your child learn best practice conversation skills is:
- make the time to converse with them – several times a day.
It doesn’t matter what the subject is but encourage them to talk to you and to listen in return. Remember, stories aren’t conversation as such but you can talk to your child about a story and get their opinion, once you’ve finished!