Let’s Talk

. April 30, 2019.

Teaching Kids Conversational Skills

For many children it’s easy to strike up conversation or join a dialogue already in progress. Yet in today’s media-centered world, many kids, tweens, and teens are lacking in social skills. They can post pictures and communicate online, but real-time conversations often baffle them.

Deb Marinik, an Education Specialist with ProMedica, explains there are many reasons for this common challenge in today’s society. “The teenage years are angst-ridden and egocentric times, so it’s hard to effectively communicate because they’re primarily thinking about their own issues. This might adversely affect listening skills, which would definitely make them ineffective communicators.”

Start the conversation early

“Encouraging positive communication skills should start very young,” advises Ms. Marinik. “Talk to your child, ask questions, and be interested in what they have to say.” She encourages parents to let go of judgment or unsolicited suggestions. “Together, they are a recipe for getting kids to clam up.”

Fundamental communication skills don’t come easily to some children, so parents can utilize TV shows and real-time events to demonstrate proper language usage and how to stay on topic. Parents can also model examples of how to start or end a conversation with basic phrases that are easy to remember.

Consistent, positive interaction is key. “Kids who are raised in a sharing and respectful environment will naturally be better at expressing their thoughts,” says Ms. Marinik. “Practicing good communication is something that needs to happen every day.”

Hang up the phone

Now more than ever, cell phone addiction has become pandemic. Parents and their kids both struggle with putting down their phones, so it’s no wonder conversation skills get lost in the shuffle. So how can adults find the balance between creating family togetherness and utilizing technology in a healthy way?

As a single mom of a 17-year-old, she says the best way to deal with cell phone issues is to not provide one for her child in the first place. “I’m the mom and I’m the boss,” she smiles. Because her son is not distracted by texting, tweeting, or posting, he has developed conversational skills that rival any adult. In turn, she models conscious listening and encourages her son to do the same.

For kids who already have a cell phone, it’s important for parents to teach them how to set clear boundaries. Having regularly scheduled times when the entire family goes “tech free” can be a great way to minimize distractions and encourage conversation.

Don’t give up

The easiest way to practice communication skills is to do something fun together as a family. Everyone needs time away from their screens, especially tweens and teens, and even though it can be challenging to encourage conversation, parents should not give up.

“It’s important to remember that the tween and teen years are a confusing time,” says Ms. Marinik. “Never stop trying, no matter how frustrating it is to get monosyllabic responses. No one stays a teen forever, and kids need to feel unconditionally loved, even when they’re being difficult.”

Growing the Conversation

  • Take baby steps by encouraging eye contact and selling “hello.”
  • Role-play introductions and answers to basic questions such as “How are you?”
  • Teach your child to ask simple, open-ended questions starting with “how” or “what.”
  • Remind your child that conversations are a two-way street, so in addition to speaking, it’s important to listen to the other person.
    Model cell phone etiquette when talking with your child and encourage conversation that does not center on social media or the Internet.
  • Visit www.smilethebook.com/smile-succeed-for-teens for more information about how to help your teen put down their phone and have successful conversations.