A while ago I was having a conversation with a friend about her car radio breaking. She was complaining about not being able to hear traffic and news and just her poor excuse for a car in general. Then she paused. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘I do talk to my kids a lot more in the car now that our other alternative is silence.’
This made me think: Does this happen a lot? And why have we stopped talking to our kids while we’re in the car? The commute to school/karate/ballet class/church/the grocery store is the perfect venue for talking (and listening) to our children. Especially for toddlers and preschoolers, having conversations with adults is important because it teaches (and gives an outlet for practicing) two important rules of conversation:
- Question and answers – As adults, we instinctively know how this dance goes. One person asks a question, the other answers. Babies first begin to learn this when an adult asks a question they already know the answer to (“What color is this?”) and then answers it for the child (“Green!”). As children get older, they can answer questions and learn to ask other questions through practicing conversation.
- Turn taking – I think all parents will agree that this is an important skill and the basis of learning to share. It also shows up when we talk with others. We all have the friend who (bless her heart) never learned this skill and talks your ear off while you nod along and your eyes glaze over. By practicing conversation with your kiddo, you are teaching him that the best communication happens when both people have a chance to talk.
Here are some simple ways to get the conversation going while you’re on the go:
- Ask open-ended questions – about your child’s preferences, thoughts, or activities. This seems common sense but often, with children, we ask questions that can be answered in one word because we know they can (and usually will) answer. Start with these:
· Tell me about…
· How do you think we could…
· What do you think of…
- Notice rather than give your opinion – When you remark on something about your child and leave your opinion ambiguous, it encourages your child to expand on what you’ve said. Think about it. It works with adults, too. If someone says to me, ‘I love your blog!’ I will likely reply, ‘Thanks!’ But if someone says, ‘I visited your blog. I see that you post every day,’ I will probably reply in a way that gives more information and keeps the conversation, ‘I’m so glad you visited. I just have so many ideas to get out and writing is a great creative outlet for me.’ Instead of:
· Did you have fun at dance class?
· Did you see that Friday is Splash Day at school?
· I like the pictures you drew!
· I noticed that you had a big smile on your face when you left dance class today...
· I saw that something special is happening at school on Friday…
· I noticed that you used markers instead of crayons on your art…
Not only will such conversations with your kids improve their conversational skills, but also: What better way to show your kids that you love and care about them and their opinions than by encouraging them to talk and really listening when they do?
I challenge you to switch the radio OFF next time you get in the car. Can you do it?
What do you like to talk to your kids about? Leave a comment!